After the recent cycle deaths, many cyclists (and even more of their loved ones who don’t ride a bike) may wonder how dangerous cycling really is.
But media reports about cycling crashes are like media reports about crime – the worst bits are repeated over and over again, until one could be forgiven for thinking that murderers (or homicidal drivers) lurk in every street.
So where do cyclists in Auckland have crashes, what kind of crashes do they have, and how risky is cycling in Auckland in comparison? A few excerpts from a compilation of NZTA crash data 2005-2009:
- First of all, cyclist crashes mostly happen at intersections (58% of all such crashes in the Auckland Region), and almost always in the urban areas of Auckland (95% occur on roads with speed limits of 70km/h or less). This shows that we need bicycle lanes most where at the moment, we have them least – across intersections (and not only signalised ones).
- The most common crash is vehicles turning across the path of a cyclist going straight (21% of all crashes in Auckland, 15% nationwide). This points to a need for drivers to be educated more about their behaviour when entering or exiting side streets or driveways. We can also hope that in the mid-term, the changes to the right turn rule could help some in this area. In the interim, both sides will need to have a hand (or foot) ready on the brake in areas where turning vehicles are common.
- Continuining on, we have a look at the likelihood and severity of a crashes. The good news (with apologies to those who were in fact hit) is that it’s not nearly as bad as it looks from a casual glance at the news. In the last five years, the number of cyclist deaths on Auckland roads has hovered around one per year. In 2007, we had none. Serious injuries hover between 30-40 a year.
This is not an attempt to relativise the issue, and no one would question that we have a lot to go to make cycling in Auckland as safe and pleasant as it should be.
But those numbers put the lie to any claim that cycling is Auckland is gambling with your life. With something upwards of 10,000 cyclists riding to work alone every day in Auckland (extrapolated from 2006 Census statistics) and many others riding for fun, 1 death per year is indeed too much to “let it ride” – but not too much for you to get on your bike.
Further, we look at whether Auckland is really so dangerous for cycling compared to New Zealand itself. We have seen surveys that show that Auckland is indeed *perceived* to be that way, partly because of motorist attitudes. But what do the statistics say?
Auckland has approximately 33% of New Zealand’s population, but only 25% of New Zealand’s cycle crashes occur here. That alone however is not an indicator yet, because we also have a lower cycling rate than the rest of the counrty (approximately 1% of Aucklander’s commute by bike, compared to 2.5% nationwide).
More relevant here is that despite having 25% of the cycle crashes, we have only 18% of the social cost (deaths, injuries, lost wages and medical costs) that occur nationwide through cycle crashes. In other words: cycling in Auckland is actually SAFER than average in New Zealand – if you get hit, you are likely to be better off here than in most other places.
We suspect that this is mainly because, despite the much-maligned nature of Auckland’s road environment, traffic jams and 50 km/h speed limits profit the cyclist by making any potential impact slower, and thus much easier to come off from without serious results. Riding in dense city traffic can be unpleasant – but it’s generally safer than it feels.
By the way, according to another set of statistics, by the Accident Compensation Corporation, cycling is roughly as dangerous as outdoor cricket [average ACC costs per person/year]. And if we persevere in changing this city, one day we may make it about as dangerous as golf.
So ride out there, and be safe.