The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) conducted an analysis of national road traffic accident data and provided an overview of the circumstances of road crashes in which cyclists died in the period 1991 to 2005. It examined the incidence of helmet wearing among cyclist deaths, the major factors in fatal crashes involving cyclists and the main crash types. Age and gender distributions, day of week, time of day and speed limit at the crash site were also examined.
As a descriptive analysis, the study is uncontroversial and no predictive conclusions were drawn. Some of the more interesting points the study highlights are:
- The most significant reduction in cycling fatalities (from 98 to 41) occurred before the introduction of mandatory helmet laws. Since the introduction of helmet laws, fatalities have varied between 57 and 26 deaths per year with a slight downward trend (p2).
- Speed limits matter far more than helmet wearing. Only 1% of cyclists are killed in 40 kph zones and below. 50% are killed in 50-60 kph zones, 10% in 60-90 kph zones and 30% in 100+ kph zones (p5).
- The majority of cyclists who were killed wore helmets. Helmet wearing data was unknown for 20% of fatalities but worn in 60% of cases where it was known (p7).
- Weather, drugs and alcohol rarely play a part in cycling fatalities. The weather was considered fine in 86% of collisions and over 90% of cyclists and motorists had no alcohol or drug content (p9).
- Using NCIS data (that’s the National Coroners Information System, not American navy police), helmet wearing was found to lower head injuries as a cause of death from 50% to 33%. A helmet would ‘save your life’ in about 16% of the cases studied but have made no difference for half the cyclists killed (p10).
If all this makes you think cycling is dangerous, think again. Far more motorists (997) and pedestrians (196) are killed than cyclists (27).