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Road Safety for Cyclists

Learn the facts associated with road safety and cyclists, and why it’s still safer to ride a bike than to drive a car.

| September 10, 2013

  • Learn the ins and outs of cycling from strength and stability to aerodynamics in “Cycling Science.”
    Cover Courtesy University of Chicago Press
  • The more people cycle, the safer the roads seem to become, not just for cyclists but for all road users.
    Photo By Fotolia/Monkey Business

Cycling Science (University of Chicago Press, 2012) by Max Glaskin takes readers through topics on cycling, such as tire rolling resistance, importance of aerodynamics and even the impact that shaved legs have on speed. Cyclists have much to gain from understanding the science of their sport. In this excerpt taken from chapter one, “Fundamentals,” learn about road safety and how the more cyclists there are, the better.

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Cycling Science.

Motorists are no safer than cyclists. Figures from the UK show that there are about 0.4 fatalities for every million person-hours of cycling — a dramatically low figure considering it would take one cyclist more than 2,000 years riding nonstop to build up that many hours. This is about the same as an average European driver’s risk of death, taken over their lifetime. The annual risk for drivers and cyclists is also very similar, and cycling is statistically at least 10 times safer than riding a motorcycle.

The more people cycle, the safer the roads seem to become, not just for cyclists but for all road users. In Portland, Oregon, all deaths from traffic accidents declined from 46 to 28 each year between 1997 and 2007, while the number of cycling commuters quadrupled to 6 percent of journeys. Similarly, cycle use in the Netherlands increased by 45 percent in the two decades to 1997, while cyclists’ deaths fell by almost 40 percent. In Berlin, between 1990 and 2007, the share of bicycle trips doubled to 10 percent, while serious injuries to cyclists fell by 38 percent.

Is there a direct correlation between these statistics? The phenomenon of “safety in numbers” is not so hard to understand. A growth in the number of cyclists makes them more visible and drivers change their own behavior accordingly. Cities are more likely to provide safer road designs and facilities for cyclists when there are more of them about. And when some drivers switch to cycling, it means that there are fewer cars on the road and, hence, a reduced chance of anyone colliding with a high-speed chunk of metal. And drivers become more aware of what being a cyclist is all about, so they drive more considerately as a result. There is no doubt that cycling has the power to improve road safety for everybody. Unlike the drivers of motorized vehicles, cyclists — because they are associated with a much lower level of kinetic energy — almost never injure or kill other road users or pedestrians.

Read more: Learn more about the science of cycling in The Environmental Impact of Cycling and Health Benefits of Cycling.

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