Australian study says more cycling = more injuries, but no increase in risk

Oh, and it throws a bit more fuel on the helmet debate

by Tony Farrelly   April 6, 2009  

road.cc news

A study into the rate of cycling injuries in the Australian state of Victoria has found the the number of injuries described as cycling related rose signigicantly between 2001 and 2006, but that the number of reported cycling accidents did not change. Despite the rise in the numbers of hospital recorded cycling injuries the study concludes that the trend towards cycling is a positive one.

The study was based on data supplied by hospitals, those needing to be admitted rose by 16 per cent. This equated to an average of 5,200 cycling injuries per year, reported road crashes involving cyclists ran at a steady 1200 cyclists per year throughout the study period. The discrepancy is most likely down to the fact the hospitals are counting all cycling injuries, on and off road whereas road traffic statistics will only include those accidents either reported to the police or to which they were called.

It's also worth noting that while the number of people hospitals recorded as being injured whilst cycling went up dramatically the numbers of serious injuries rose, but less dramatically injuries and deaths remained either static or showed much smaller rises.

Main findings

  • Young men under 35 were the group most likely to be treated in hospital, the biggest proportion of this group was made up of those under 15
  • However the age and gender gap decreased dramatically when it came to cycling fatalities with more than half of the 47 cyclists killed during the study period over 35
  • Most fatal bike crashes happened during the morning or evening rush hours and most happened on the road
  • Most serious injuries occurred on the road, but almost half of the less severe injuries occurred elsewhere – 20 per cent occurred at home
  • Injuries to the extremities were common and often involved long-term recovery.
  • As ever with these things the reports findings on helmet use are likely to be its most contentious aspect. The authors state that wearing a helmet “substantially reduces the risk of cyclists who fall or are involved in a collisions with motor vehicles” however it could be argued that they don't supply any data to back up the latter part of that statement. According to the report:
  • “Most deaths involved a head injury (33; 70%), and 22 cyclists (47%) sustained multiple injuries; in 19 cases (40%) data regarding injuries were incomplete. Of the 47 fatalities referred to the coroner, 20 bicyclists (42%) wore helmets, three (6%) wore helmets and reflective clothing, and seven (15%) did not wear a helmet, but one of the seven without helmets wore reflective clothing. For 17 cases (36%), the report was incomplete with respect to protective equipment.”

The report's authors also note that the study has no way of measuring the actual numbers of cyclists on Victoria's road except anecdotally and by noting that bicycle sales have outstripped car sales for nine years nor does it have any data on the distances ridden by Victorian cyclists it cannot give an accurate assessment of whether cycling has got more or less safe in the Australian state. One of the doctors that produced the report, Mirjana Sikic, a trainee in emergency medicine at The Alfred hospital in Melbourne told thewest.com that while “the data from hospitals showed bike-related injuries had “increased significantly“, but this was in line with growing bike ownership and there was no evidence to show an increase in road dangers.”