Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Once in every 73 lifetimes - How often the Dutch are injured by another cyclist while cycling

Dr Jon Rogers and Walker Angell
were interviewed as well as myself
Fatalities on Dutch roads and cycle-paths dropped last year but a small rise in injuries to cyclists made the news. A film crew joined us for a few minutes during the study tour last week, interviewing two of the participants on the tour as well as myself. You can watch the resulting news report, with subtitles in English, above.

Of course, a rise in injuries is most unwelcome, but we must keep this in context. Given the Dutch population of 16.8 million, the average life expectancy of a little over 80 years and assuming that the entire population cycles (which is not far from the truth), 2849 injuries per year corresponds with cyclists needing medical attention due to a crash with another cyclist on average once every 73 lifetimes. Only a fraction of these involve more than first aid.

Perhaps cycling through a red
light while on the 'phone
doesn't seem a great idea, but
she's one of the safest cyclists
in the world (although the
infrastructure she's riding on
in the video is less than ideal)
Two thirds of injuries to cyclists in the Netherlands are the result of falls from the bike not involving any other party (these are particularly dangerous for older people) while only a fifth involve a motor vehicle. If all causes of injury are added together, 8100 cyclists experience injuries requiring attendance of hospital each year in the Netherlands. That's a risk of about once every 25 lifetimes.

The risk of death, based on last year's figures, is about once per 990 lifetimes. People from other countries often notice that the Dutch don't wear helmets when cycling. This is quite rational: I once calculated that if Dutch cyclists wore helmets, this would save their lives on average once every 3100 lifetimes.

The safety of all road users is excellent in the Netherlands and despite alarm over a rise in cyclist injuries, cyclist safety remains ahead of the rest of the world. That's despite the sometimes unruly behaviour of cyclists, which is commented on in the video.

Of course, while subjective safety is not so easily measured, that's what makes it possible for the masses to cycle. It's just as well that removing motor vehicles from where cyclists go improves both actual safety and subjective safety.

Racing Cyclists
The news team seemed to be trying to make a story about racing cyclists being the cause of many crashes. In fact, there's no real evidence for this. For a start, there aren't many cycle on cycle crashes to look at. But in any case racers mainly hurt themselves, not other people. The main organisation which organises such events has responded to the accusation by producing a behaviour code for racers, but I don't think it will help because this ignores the rather irrational psychology of how people blame out-groups for problems.

A few weeks after I wrote this article, a
friend of mine had his arm broken in
a collision with another bike. He was
unfortunate enough to be hit by an older
cyclist who didn't look before changing
direction. A hit and run! It's not rational
to assume that older people are always
the victims in these rare crashes.
Older people
The TV programme also touched on the problem of older people being victims of cycling accidents more often than they used to be. This rise is largely the result of exposure to risk combined with their relative fragility. As I explained in an analysis of the same problem two years ago, retired people now cycle three times as much now as they did in the 1980s.

Children going to school by car
Another of the themes which came up again in this video is the concern than these days, Dutch children increasingly go to school by car. This is an increasing trend, but it's still very small compared with other nations. Please read my analysis of this from last year.

Study tour summary
The tour changed again this year to take into account new infrastructure and to demonstrate some things that we've not been able to demonstrate before, packed into three very busy days. Participants took a lot of photographs and there was much discussion.

The study tour group amongst other everyday cyclists riding into Groningen. It can be quite a challenge to lead the tour and keep track of everyone when we're surrounded by such a lot of other cyclists.
Always popular, we watched how children get to and from school. At this primary school, the younger children are met by parents but many ride independently.
We also saw several classes of primary school aged children going on trips by bike.
In a residential street, observing how these are planned to minimise through traffic and encourage cycling and walking.

As well as seeing what works, we also demonstrate what does not because it is not necessary to repeat mistakes made in the Netherlands as well as successes. This is the same shared space junction as featured in a video and blog post two weeks ago and as always we saw the same problems here. A significant proportion of people were scared to cycle and in an attempt to improve their chances they were crossing the road as pedestrians or riding on the pavement. Both these things are indications that the cycling environment is not good enough.
The next open study tour is on the 2nd to 4th of September. Book now.

Amendment 30th April: Note that when this blog post was first published it referred to 2849 as the total number of cycling injuries per year for all reasons. I posted it, then woke up the next morning feeling that this sounded rather better than it ought to so I've done further research and amended the post above with reference to an article with more complete information. There are in fact 78000 injuries per year including the least serious than can be measured, 66000 of which require first aid and 8100 of which result in treatment in hospital. I'm happy to have corrected the figures above, but it remains extremely safe to cycle in the Netherlands. By comparison, a correspondent pointed out in email that 1 in 120 Americans die in a car crash while 1 in 280 British people meet that same end. It's far safer to be a cyclist in the Netherlands than to be around cars in those countries.

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