It seems paradoxical but as the number of cyclists on our city streets increases, the chance of one being injured in a traffic accident actually falls, new research has found.
Local and international research presented at a cycling safety seminar in Sydney has revealed that as cycling participation increases, a cyclist is far less likely to have a collision with a motor vehicle or suffer injury and death. The same result is true for incidents between pedestrians and vehicles. The cut in accidents is not simply because there are fewer cars on the roads but also because motorists seem to change their behaviour and drive more safely when they see more cyclists and pedestrians around.
Studies in many countries have shown consistently that the number of motorists colliding with walkers or cyclists doesn't increase proportionally with the number of people walking or riding. For example, a community that doubles its cycling numbers can expect a one-third drop in the per-cyclist frequency of a crash with a motor vehicle.
"It's a virtuous cycle," says Dr Julie Hatfield, from UNSW's Injury Risk Management Research Centre, who addressed the seminar on September 5. "The likelihood that an individual cyclist will be struck by a motorist falls with increasing rate of bicycling in a community. And the safer cycling is perceived to be, the more people are prepared to cycle."
Experts say the effect is independent of improvements in cycling-friendly laws such as lower speed limits and better infrastructure such as bike paths. Research has revealed the safety-in-numbers effect for cyclists in Australia, Denmark, the Netherlands, 14 European countries and 68 Californian cities.
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