Study Reveals Young People Are Safer Cycling Than They Are Driving

Brett Smith for – Your Universe Online

While people are generally encouraged to use their bikes to get to work, school, or play for a variety of beneficial reasons, safety concerns are frequently cited as the explanation for not using pedal power to get around.

A new study from University College London that appeared in the open access journal PLoS ONE shows that those concerns over safety may be unfounded, especially for young male drivers between 17 to 20 years old, who face almost five times greater risk of fatality per hour than cyclists in their peer group.

The study examined the risks associated with walking, cycling, and driving for several different age groups and both sexes.

“What we found is that risks were similar for men aged between 21 and 49 for all three modes of transport and for female pedestrians and drivers aged 21 and 69 years,” lead author Jennifer Mindell, from UCL´s Department of Epidemiology & Public Health, said in a statement. “However, we found that for young male cyclists between 17 and 20 years of age, cycling was markedly safer than traveling by car.”

“Perceived road danger is a strong disincentive to cycling and many potential cyclists do not ride on the road due to safety concerns,” Mindell added. “But research regarding the safety of cycling tends to be distorted by a number of errors which are found repeatedly in published papers and policy documents, with many substantially overstating cycling injuries and under-reporting pedestrian injuries.”

The U.K. researchers´ study was based on hospital admissions data and deaths in England between 2007 and 2009. They also used data from England´s National Travel Survey for the same time period to determine the time spent traveling for each mode of transportation.

They found male drivers between 17 and 20 years old, male cyclists over 70, and female walkers over 70 were in the highest risk groups. The results also showed that fatality rates were considerably higher for males than females.

After comparing data culled from their sources, the research team did the same with information from the Netherlands — a country many perceive to be bike-friendly. They found a comparable pattern for Dutch travelers, with young male cyclists less likely to incur a serious injury or death than those traveling by car.

“This research dispels the idea that risk for UK cyclists is substantially higher than for drivers or pedestrians, and hopefully will encourage more people to take up something which is not only good for health, but also the environment,” Mindell said.

“An individual who cycles one hour a day for 40 years would cover about 180,000km [112,000 miles], whilst accumulating only a one in 150 chance of fatal injury. This is lower than for pedestrians who face a higher fatality rate per kilometer traveled,” she added. “The health benefits of cycling are much greater than the fatality risk.”

Many cities have been installing bike lanes in recent years, partially as a way to alleviate congestion on their streets. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has implemented one of the more ambitious urban bike lane programs, despite the howls of protest from cab drivers and prominent Brooklynite Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.