A study published in the British Medical Journal this week has found that female cyclists in Canada have lower hospitalisation rates than men. Researchers concluded that this may be because women tend to favour safer routes, including roads where there is better cycling infrastructure.
"Women were 50 per cent less likely to be injured to any body region and 60 per cent less likely when we were considering head injuries," study author Jessica Dennis told CBS News.
A pattern of lower injury and fatality rates for females has been observed in other transport modes, including driving and walking and the study authors point out that this is often attributed to a lower propensity for risk-taking.
"We know that women tend to ride a little more slowly, we know that women choose safer bike routes, they choose routes that have a designated bike lane, or a route that's separated from traffic," said Dennis.
She believes that much can be learnt from this. "These choices women are making, we can promote them, but we need policy makers to really buy into these separated bike routes or designated bike lanes that are going to provide cyclists the means to cycle more like a woman."
Despite this, female cyclists are more likely to sustain injury than men in some circumstances. In 2013, cycling blogger Adrian of I Cycle Liverpool discovered that in one sizeable area of Central London, 14 women, but no men, had been killed while riding bikes over the previous 12 years – all but one by a lorry or bus.
A leaked 2007 report by Transport for London's (TfL) road safety unit noted that 86 per cent of women cyclists killed in London between 1999 and 2004 collided with a lorry, versus 47 per cent of male cyclists. The report concluded: “Women may be over-represented in (collisions with goods vehicles) because they are less likely than men to disobey red lights.”
The joint study between the University of Toronto and the University of British Columbia was actually intended to examine the effect of mandatory helmet laws.
However, while researchers did not find any relationship between injury rates and helmet legislation, cycling’s modal share was one other factor that did seem to have a major impact. A major finding was that for every one per cent in the proportion of commuters who were cyclists, the risk of injuries was reduced by a third.