Subject: Revised Safety Article
Date: Sat, 29 Apr 2000 12:56:40 -0700 (PDT)
From: rdb© (Robert Bernstein)
To: oasisdesign
CC: rdb©

We must work to make safer and more pleasant routes for cycling. Bike routes that are not pleasant are often perceived to be unsafe. That said, let's look at the facts of how safe cycling really is. The most common excuse given for driving rather than cycling is the belief that it is ``too dangerous''. From a community perspective, this is ironic and unfortunate since the main thing that makes cycling at all dangerous is that most people are driving instead of cycling! However, the question still comes up from a personal, if not selfish, perspective: Is cycling in fact more dangerous than driving? The answer is surprisingly: No. And, if you take into account other health benefits from cycling, cycling has a big safety gain over driving. More on that later. If you average all fatalities for various activities over all the time spent doing them, bicycling has .26 fatalities per million hours while driving has .47 fatalities per million hours. For comparison, just being alive has a fatality rate of 1.53 fatalities per million hours! This figure comes from simply dividing a life expectancy of 76.3 years (654,000 hours) into a million hours. However, an adult running errands or commuting by bicycle faces a risk that is much lower than that already low .26 figure. Obeying a few basic rules carefully can lower one's risk to something more like 1/5 this risk. Most important: Ride on the right-hand side of the road and look when entering the road from a driveway. It is important to wear a helmet (I always do). But it is even more important to obey basic traffic laws. Half of all motor vehicle fatalities are from single-vehicle accidents. Single-vehicle accidents rarely cause fatalities for cyclists, which cuts their risk almost in half. What about children cycling? Cycling is still very safe for children. The injury rate for children cycling is still twenty times lower per hour than the injury rate for children playing basketball! And the death rate per hour is still less than for them being in a car. OK, but all of this talk is per hour, not per mile. True, but even when measured per mile, cycling risks come out about the same as driving. Also, a cyclist is more likely to consolidate trips and otherwise reduce travel distance more than a motorist will. This means that the per hour risk figure is really more relevant than the per mile risk. One question that is rarely asked when thinking about the risk of cycling: What is the risk of not cycling!? Well, the leading cause of death for adults is heart disease. That risk is increased dramatically by lifestyle choices that we make our entire lives and which are often set in childhood. And, inactivity is a significant risk factor in heart disease. To quantify this: Cycling six hours per week reduces the chance of death by coronary heart disease by over four times as much as it increases the chance of death through a traffic accident! But that's not all! Cycling also reduces the risk of these top killers: Strokes, lung disease, diabetes and... suicide! It is easy to visualize being hit by a car, so we fear it more than we fear having our arteries slowly clog and harden which is less dramatic, but far more deadly. Our children will benefit both physically and psychologically from the exercise and independence of cycling. Teach them basic safety and make them wear a helmet and know that this is much better for them than keeping them inactive and auto-dependent out of fear. When done with even a modest amount of caution, skill and courtesy, cycling is one of the safest activities you can do. Every chance you have to substitute cycling for driving is a net personal reduction in total risk. And, you can be proud of the fact that you are reducing the risk to others. Not only from collisions, but from air pollution and even from the risk of war over oil! What a benefit cycling truly can be!