Bike deaths on Aussie roads have dropped over 30 years: BMJ

As the usual spike in cyclists on Australian roads comes about with three high-profile cycling events in January, new data shows a decline in cyclist deaths in the last 30 years.

That trend largely appears to be driven by the rollout of increased bike infrastructure.

But according to lead researcher Soufiane Boufous, an associate professor in injury epidemiology at the University of New South Wales, there has been an overall 1.1% annual decrease between 1991 and 2022, though deaths among those over 60 years of age saw an increase.

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Credit: Steve Waters

This, suggests Boufous, could be explained by increased cycling participation by older people, combined with the greater risk of death – owing to frailty – for that age group.

“If you’re an older person and you crash, and this applies to car [drivers] as well, you’re more likely to die […]because of frailty and physics laws,” Boufous tells Cosmos.

There was also a proportional increase of deaths where the bike was the only vehicle involved.

This is thought to be the result of increasing bike infrastructure separating cars and bikes across the nation – whether through painted road lanes or by fully-separated bikeways.

“We need to do a bit more research to know how they happen [single vehicle deaths],” Boufous says.

“Cycling lanes and cycling infrastructure are not as well maintained as roads, a lot of studies have looked at that.”

With concerns for road safety identified as one of the primary barriers for people to taking up road-based riding, Boufous points to separation in other nations for driving car-v-bike incidents down.

“I’ve been talking to colleagues in Holland – their death rates for all ages, half of them are happening in cycling lanes. That makes complete sense that if that’s where cycling is happening, that’s what’s going to happen in the future,” he says.

“We need to not only build them [lanes] and that’s the way to go, but we need to maintain them as well.”

The results are published in The British Medical Journal.

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