Deaths of cyclists due to road crashes

By January 2, 2011 July 11th, 2015 17 Comments

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).

Deaths of cyclists due to road crashes (2006), ATSB Road Safety Report, Australian Transport Safety Bureau, Canberra.


  • Marc Durdin says:

    What about brain injury and other non-fatal injuries?  Any stats on those?

  • Ashley says:

    The problem with cyclists on the roads in Australia, aren’t to do with them wearing helmets or not.  It’s the fact that there are so little of them because of this helmet law, the drivers instead of understanding and excepting that encountering cyclists is a part of their day to day driving experience, get frustrated by cyclists and don’t pay as much attention to them

  • Dick says:

    I think your argument and website are seriously flawed.  Been riding a bike for 28 years with a helmet. 
    check out

  • Tom says:

    I’m supportive of the cause in general, but these stats aren’t that helpful.

    a) You can’t usefully compare different activities by number of accidents without normalising the data on either time spent doing it or km travelled.
    b) The same goes for speed zones: are cyclists not being killed in 40kph zones and less because the speed is lower, or because there just aren’t that many areas of 40kph zones?
    c) Including all cycle road deaths is also not that useful if you’re trying to promote cycle commuting. The safety of riding for sport on a road bike is presumably vastly different to a upright bike.

    What would be really useful is working out the deaths per km of people “casually” riding on bikes and comparing it to jogging and walking. I think then we’d see if cycling was so “dangerous” that helmets should be mandated or not.

  • Stephen King says:

    Accidents are common these days and these occurs only due to carelessness and due to this road accidents the other commutators face a great problem in traveling and in a recent survey it was found that many cyclist were killed due to car crashes in recent few days. Therefore the security officials are trying to control the road car crashes and save the cyclist.

  • Abe says:

    In my opinion, as an avid road cyclist, it is my belief, that trying to exercise your rights as a road user (at all costs), is at the least the most foolish thing you can do while riding a bike. Just by entering the flow of traffic in any busy city or suburb, you are exposing yourself at being prone to an accident at anytime. Leaving in the NSW Central Coast is not much of a relief when one can continuously observe young and older drivers, male and female, use their mobile phone devices to SMS and talk while driving. Mothers with little ones in their vehicles can be seen going fast and talking / texting. “P” plate drivers swerving in and out the road shoulder’s unbroken line while texting. Older men driver’s upset at you just because they have to give way to you at an intersection while they are in a hurry to turn into a side street. Blokes angry at you just because they are in hurry to get to the bottle shop or newsagent. Drivers opening their vehicle doors without not even an attempt to look who (if anyone) is approaching their spot from behind. So, to summarise the above, I would like to advise all my cycling peers to please be very extra careful while out on the roads. Our priority should be (as it is for me) to focus in coming back home safe and in one piece. May all have a safe and nice ride for the rest of your natural life.

  • David says:

    I look at this from 2 sides…
    I have been driving everyday in Sydney and around NSW for over 25 years. I also cycle around the national park in Sydney’s south every Saturday morning on my road bike.

    I am super concerned everytime I am on a busy road, a bike lane on the side of a highway or in general traffic. I ride very cautiously and give myself as much room as I can around cars and trucks. Saying that, I realise an accident can happen anywhere, anytime – and on two very thin tyres (the cyclist doesn’t have much protection).

    I believe there are no simple answers, but these 10 suggestions would certainly help a lot:
    1. Ban cyclists from busy main roads and highways (some roads are just too dangerous and often there is not enough room for cars and bikes). General suburban streets are still fine!
    2. Request that cyclists must legally wear helmets, possess standard lights and have a nationally accredited rego sticker on their bike.
    3. Ask all cyclists over 18 to purchase a cyclists photo id registration card. (e.g $100 for 5 years). This card must be carried when riding. This card would also cover some insurance too!
    4. Increase fines for cyclists breaking road rules. encourage police to enforce them where applicable.
    5. Make an example of drivers who drive recklessly and injure or kill cyclists. Jail time is necessary!
    6. Create a national TV and internet ad campaign to educate drivers and cyclists and their rights, courteous behaviour and safe practices.
    7. Create a campaign especially targeting truck and P platers in utes – to be more aware of cyclists.
    8. Educate cyclists on the dangers of riding in a pack (e.g. touching wheels)
    9. In capital cities, fund the creation of selected and approved bike routes. As an example, western Sydney has the M7. Build new paths and/or allocate low traffic routes in 4 or 5 parts of the city (Nth, Sth, Inner city etc),. These routes could be 10- 40 kms in length and cyclists could be encouraged to utilise these.
    10. Ensure these bike paths are swept regularly by councils (debris etc) or at least where ever possible.

  • Editor says:

    HI David, thanks for such a thoughtful list of ideas. From your description of yourself, would it be fair to characterise your cycling as “sport” cycling, you didn’t mention using a bicycle for getting to work, doing the shopping, etc. Cycling is a great sport and is to be encouraged and made as safe as possible given that sport cycling takes place on roads shared with often fast moving cars. For these cyclists the 1 meter rule is important, for example.

    Education and changing perceptions of cyclists is important.

    At Freestyle Cyclists we want to open up cycling to a much wider range of people for everyday trips – utility cycling as it is sometimes called. If you ban cyclists from some roads, how are people going to get to places on those roads? But your point that those roads are too dangerous is well made, they all need physical separation and in the meantime footpath cycling should be legal until the necessary upgrades are built.

    Licensing and ID requirements are a bad idea because it’s another barrier to getting more people riding, as is helmet law. As to increasing fines, given that the large majority of injury collisions are caused by cars, and the need to keep penalties in line with harms, it doesn’t make sense for cyclists to be fined at the same level as motorists. As to putting car drivers in jail for dangerous driving causing injury or death, courts and sometimes police have been far too lenient and the wrong message is being sent to drivers.

  • don-in-japan says:

    “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).”
    Kind of a ridiculous point. If the vast majority of cyclists are wearing helmets, then of course the majority of cyclists killed are going to be wearing helmets.

    “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).”
    That actually sounds more like an argument FOR wearing a helmet, rather than not…

  • Editor says:

    Thanks Don, must look you up on our next cycling visit to Japan. Love seeing everyone riding around without helmets there.
    In relation to your first point, a lot of the “evidence” for the effectiveness of helmets relies on comparing helmet wearing rates of two groups, those with head injuries and those without ( amongst hospital admissions). That’s the relevance of this figure.

    As to making arguments for wearing a helmet, that’s fine – our argument is against helmet *laws*, which is a different matter. Don’t worry, most people get this mixed up and think we want to stop everyone from wearing a helmet. Our point is people should be able to choose.

  • Michael says:

    Am 60 now, schoolteacher – Vic High School
    We do not have bike racks in our “refurbished” school – not needed – so very few students ride to school (less than 15 out of 700)
    In the 60’s in Melb’ Eastern Suburbs there were overflowing bike racks – hundreds of bikes, recall on Monday assembly where we were warned “Now that half of you are riding to school we need an orderly storing of your bikes and any bikes not in racks or where the racks are full at least up against the fence will have their bikes confiscated for one week”

  • Steve says:

    Born & growing up in Amsterdam, NL, I have a lot of experience cycling in both Australia and the Netherlands.
    First off, Holland is a land of cyclists. Amsterdam has a population of around 1 million. On any given weekday there are as many as 350,000 cyclists on the road. — more than any other form of transport. Throughout the city cyclist are completely separated from other traffic and pedestrians. In more than 20 years of cycling, I was never involved in any accidents, even if during my teenage years I had little consideration for the road rules. Bike helmets were never compulsory. Any attempt by government to change that would have caused riots. (Something very common in Amsterdam anyway)

    Coming to Australia in the 80s, I cycled in Melbourne, Perth & the Gold Coast. The experiences in all 3 cities weren’t great, but was worst on the Gold Coast. After several near misses I was rammed on a roundabout in Arundal. Fortunately, my Judo training served me well to break my fall into the windscreen of the vehicle that crashed into me. In the aftermath the driver’s insurance paid for a brand new road bike. I was a bit bruised, but back at work a few days later.

    The experience left me very wary of motorists. After a few more near misses I gave it up.
    I invested in a great spin bike and have an extensive selection of YouTube GCN spin classes. I enjoy great workouts nearly every day. The cost of maintenance in comparison to road bikes is negligible.

    I conclude that Australian roads are an unsafe place for cyclists. The very fact you are forced to wear a helmet should set off alarm bells.
    The vast majority of motorists are completely unaware of the danger they pose to their 2 wheeler fellow road users. That is the problem. Unless cyclists get their own road network, separated from other – growing – traffic, it is going to remain an unsafe form of transport.

  • Ottilia says:

    In my opinion it is useless to argue over the helmet law in the concept of number of injuries or fatalities. I cannot tell what was the real reason to apply this law but I am very convinced that it had nothing to do with safety. However, I would like to draw attention to another bike law that actually puts people’s lives in serious danger. The law states that ”the rider of a bicycle who is 12 years old or older must not ride on a footpath.” This means 12 years old children and above are forced to ride their bike among motorized vehicles and risk a collision. Any parents would allow that? Looks to me that the Parliament cooked the chicken before de-feathering it and now they want us to eat it. What do I mean on this? They ratify regulations before creating the conditions for implementation. What I see is that the Australian Parliament slaps the face of the community with a bike law that is not only working against most of the advantages of riding a bike but presents danger to the community. I use my bike mostly to travel to work. It takes 30 minutes. Public transport takes 45 minutes. On my bike I enjoy the sun, the fresh air and the wind in my hair. On the footpath I can do shortcuts, ride in any directions, park wherever I want. And doing so, I break the law in this country. I don’t think the problem lays with me. My life instinct simply does not allow me to enter into dangerous situations. I am scared on the road. Sydney drivers are very aggressive. They are taking over me in roundabouts and intersections pushing me off the road. They have no patience towards bikers and I don’t blame them if I consider the difference of the traveling speed of a car and a bike. They don’t match.
    I see separated bike paths running into nowhere, shared signs on footpaths ending suddenly. I do appreciate the effort of creating a bike infrastructure but it is still a big helter-skelter to afford banning bikers off the footpaths. Or should we phone E.T. all the time if we have to fly through a hole in the map?
    If Australia continues this direction soon we will see mandatory life jacket laws for swimmers and surfers while forcing them to swim with the sharks.
    Wearing a helmet won’t save my life if I get under a truck. But riding on the footpath I won’t get under any trucks. Contrary to wearing a gear and enter into danger, the number one priority for safety is to avoid danger. This law is a killer and very much unobeyable for me.
    It is a shame that I have to watch out for money collectors (disguised in police uniform) instead of putting all of my attention into avoiding potholes, broken glasses, fallen branches, etc. Things that cars can easily go through might be challenging for bikes…. I could go on and on but I feel it is worthless. At least I eased my anger a bit here. 🙂 It looks to me that the creators of the bike law have never ever rode a bike. 🙁

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