Getting around by bike is becoming more populari. The 2011 National Cycling Participation Survey found that in a typical week about 18% of Australians ride a bicycle for recreation and transportii. 3.6 million people ride for recreation, leisure or fitness and more than 1.2 million make at least one transport journey by bike. As a mode of transport, the survey found that people make trips on their bike to school, university, work, the shops and to visit family and friends. The Northern Territory (11.1%) and ACT (9.5%) have the highest rates of cycling for transport, while New South Wales (3.6%) and South Australia (5.6%) have the lowest.
Commuting by cycling is a great way of squeezing physical activity into a busy day and it's better for the environment than driving or even taking public transport. Depending where you live, cycling could let you avoid peak hour traffic congestion, saving you time on your journey in and out of urban areas. Furthermore, switching to the bike can save you money on every day parking fees or travel tickets.
However, there are few bike-only lanes in Australian cities and towns, and current cycle networks do not stretch far. That leaves most cyclists to get around on the roads, which comes with its risks. It is important for both drivers and cyclists to recognise these risks and remember that the road is there to share.
In Australia, cyclists are among the most vulnerable of road usersiii. They have the highest proportion of self-reported near-miss crashes, which is significantly higher than that of motoristsiii. The average probability of a cyclist being seriously injured in a collision was almost 27%iii - that's more than 1 in 4 crashes resulting in a serious injury - and there were 35 pedal cyclist fatalities in 2011iv. In 2008, the majority of cyclist fatalities occurred on Sunday (21) and Friday (18), and 12-6pm was the most dangerous time for cyclist fatalitiesi.
A factor that influences vehicle and bicycle collisions on the road is that drivers are unable to detect cyclists until it is too late to avoid a collisioniii. These accidents are called "looked-but-failed-to-see" crashes and occur when a driver looks as she or he should before proceeding to drive, but fails to see the cyclist in the way. This suggests that cyclist visibility on the road may be an important factor in collisionsv.
Tips for staying safe
Whether you're driving, cycling or walking, there are measures you can take to ensure a safer trip for everyone. It's important to abide by the road rules and to know your rights and responsibilities when on the road. Here are a few safety tips that drivers and cyclists should keep in mind when travelling on the road.
- 1. Be fair - First and foremost, drivers should always keep in mind that roads are not exclusive to cars. Cyclists are legitimate road users and should be treated with respect and courtesy, like any other commuter on the road.
- 2. Check blind spots - Be aware of pedestrians and cyclists on the road and make sure to check blind spots when changing lanes, overtaking and before opening the car door.
- 3. Be patient - Before overtaking a cyclist, ensure you give them plenty of room and only turn when it is safe to do so. Cutting in front of a cyclist with short or no warning can be very dangerous. If a cyclist is in front of you and you are turning left, make your turn behind the cyclist.
- 4. Take extra care at night or when wet - Lack of visibility is a major cause of accidents between motor vehicles and bicyclesv. Make sure you check for cyclists at night, dusk, dawn and in wet conditions. Be considerate and dip your headlights when approaching a cyclist.
- 5. Look out for kids - Young cyclists are not always predictable and may be less aware of road safety compared to adults. In all Australian states, children under the age of 12 are allowed to ride their bikes on footpathsvii , but it's important to drive with caution near schools, residential areas and intersections.
- 1. Safety gear - Always wear a standards approved bicycle helmet^ and any necessary safety equipment before hopping on a bike. This is something you should never compromise on.
- 2. Be alert - When cycling in traffic, make sure your eyes and ears are tuned to the road. This involves constantly scanning behind and in front of you. By doing this, you are making other road users are aware of your presence and you are aware of theirsviii.
- 3. Be predictable - Before heading out on the road; make sure you are physically and mentally prepared to ride in traffic. Riding consistently, signalling when necessary and abiding by the road rules will be reassuring for other road usersviii.
- 4. Make sure you're visible - Increased visibility of cyclists may reduce the number of vehicle/bicycle accidents in Australia. Wearing highly visible light-coloured or reflective clothing and fitting your bike with lights or reflectors while riding will make it easier for drivers to spot you, especially at night or in wet conditionsvii.
- 5. Keep a distance - Cycle about one metre away from the curb or parked cars to avoid getting hit by opening car doors, or any debris or broken glass being swept off the side of the roadix.
- 6. Choose a safe route - When possible, choose a route where cyclists are separated from other road users, for example bicycle pathsvii.
No matter how we choose to travel - drive, cycle or walk - the road is there for everyone to use. Respecting all types of commuters and abiding by the road rules can make travelling on the road a safer experience for everybody. However, accidents can occur and as a driver, you want to have a peace of mind that your investment is safeguarded in the event of one. By taking out car insurance you can make sure that you are financially protected for damage to your vehicle or third party property in the event of an accident.
^ Bicycle helmets are specialist head protection designed to reduce the likelihood of injury to a cyclist in the event of an accident. The mandatory standard for bicycle helmets covers design, construction and safety marking requirements for bicycle helmets. This mandatory standard is set out in the Trade Practices (Consumer Product Safety Standards) Regulations 2001-Bicycle Helmetsx.
i CARRS Centre for accident research and road safety, 2011, State of the Road: Bicycle Safety Fact Sheet, http://www.carrsq.qut.edu.au/publications/corporate/bicycle_safety_fs.pdf, p.1
ii Australian Bicycle Council, 2011, National Cycling Participation Survey: National Fact Sheet
iii Wood, J.M., Lacherez, P.F., Marszalek, R.P., & King, M.J., 2009, Drivers' and cyclists' experiences of sharing the road: incidents, attitudes and perceptions of visibility, Queensland University of technology, http://eprints.qut.edu.au/29579/1/29579.pdf, p.3
iv Australian Government Department of Infrastructure and Transport, 2012, Road Deaths Australia 2011 Statistical Summary, http://www.bitre.gov.au/publications/2012/files/RDA_Summary_2011.pdf, p.1
v Wood, J.M., Lacherez, P.F., Marszalek, R.P., & King, M.J., 2009, Drivers' and cyclists' experiences of sharing the road: incidents, attitudes and perceptions of visibility, Queensland University of technology, http://eprints.qut.edu.au/29579/1/29579.pdf, p.4
vi Queensland Government, 2012, Sharing the road with cyclists, http://www.tmr.qld.gov.au/Safety/Driver-guide/Driving-safely/Sharing-the-road-with-cyclists.aspx, p.1
vii CARRS Centre for accident research and road safety, 2011, State of the Road: Bicycle Safety Fact Sheet, http://www.carrsq.qut.edu.au/publications/corporate/bicycle_safety_fs.pdf, p.2
viii Bicycle Network, Bikes and Riding: Riding on the road, http://www.bicyclenetwork.com.au/general/bikes-and-riding/90455/
ix NSW Government: Roads and Traffic Authority, Share and be aware brochure, http://www.bicycleinfo.nsw.gov.au/downloads/share_be_aware_may11.pdf
x Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, Product Safety Australia, Bicycle Helmets,, http://www.productsafety.gov.au/content/index.phtml/itemId/974624/fromItemId/974621