It is not often that I slow down. In spite of my so-called retired status, I am rolling through life at a fairly good clip most of the time. But yesterday I paused to pick up Women on Wheels, a cyclist’s handbook by Portland author, April Streeter. The quick-read chapters appeal to my pause-just-a-moment lifestyle. I cracked open the tiny treasure and landed on a chapter titled, “Safer than the Stairs”, a fact-filled answer to the valid question we have all received from friends and family (and perhaps even ourselves), “Aren’t you afraid of the dangers of cycling?”
With Ms. Streeter’s permission I am reprinting the chapter below. I hope you find it as useful and interesting as I did. Now here is an opportunity to find your pause button …
Safer than the Stairs
Contrary to what you might believe, cycling just isn’t the big, bad, scary danger many people think it is.
In reality, driving is more dangerous than cycling. According to 2007 data from the National Safety Council, the odds of dying in a bicycle collision are 1 in 4,717, while the chances of dying from a motor vehicle accident are 1 in 88. Just 800 people a year die in bicycle collisions, while approximately 1,300 are killed falling on or off stairs. Meanwhile, more than 30,000 people are killed in vehicle accidents, and around 2,000 pedestrian deaths occur in traffic-related fatalities each year. Ten times the number of people die in motor vehicle accidents each year than died in the 9/11 terrorist events. It starts to make you wonder why we don’t make people wear helmets inside their cars, doesn’t it?
What’s more, the odds of dying from heart disease are 1 in 6; from cancer, 1 in 7; and from a stroke, 1 in 28. Chances are better that you’ll die of a fall (1 in 171) or even in an accidental drowning (1 in 1,123) than that you will be killed while biking.
All this is not to imply that cycling is without risk. Living and breathing have associated risks. However, a look at cycling-specific studies starts to signal that the benefits of biking outweigh the risks. An Australian study from 1996, Pedaling Health,15 specifically looked at the benefits and risks of incorporating cycling into our daily transport and concluded six weekly hours of biking reduces far more heart attack risk than it adds in collision risk. The same study looked at data showing cycling incurred fewer injures than football, squash, basketball, or soccer.
An earlier British Medical Association study from 1992 reckoned that the benefits of cycling — stress reduction, greater cardiovascular fitness, and improved mental wellbeing — outweighed the risks by a factor of 20.16
Much more recently, a 2011 study of bike share users in Barcelona showed that decreased mortality in biking Barcelonians exceeded the danger of increased exposure to traffic and traffic’s odiferous air pollution.17 In fact, in this study the researchers directly compared car drivers’ mortality rates to bike share bikers’ deaths. The simple increase in physical activity those bike share cyclists gained gave them an advantage over the sedentary drivers.
Conclusion? It’s more dangerous not to ride a bike.
Those cycle-crazy Danes have known all this for a while. A 2000 Danish study of people of all ages found that sports participants experienced only half the mortality of nonparticipants, and bicycling to work decreased risk of mortality by approximately 40 percent.
Later, Danish mobility consultant Thomas Krag reviewed that study as well as Danish epidemiological data showing that there’s a higher death risk from not cycling to work than there is from riding a bike to the job. Regular cyclists have a whopping 28 percent lower risk of dying than their car-bound, non-cycling colleagues. Krag puts it like this in an article for the European Cyclists Federation: “When the positive health benefits from physical exercise are taken into account, cycling in any case will turn out very positively.”18
And the good news goes on. Because not only could cycling be safer than not cycling — the more people biking, the safer cycling gets.
What do you think? [Post a comment]
If you would like to read more, click here to buy the book.
For information on April’s Portland cycling group go to Women on Wheels Meetup.
15. Australian Department of Health, Pedaling Health Benefits of a Modal Transportation Shift, 1996.
16. British Medical Association, Cycling Towards Health and Safety (London, 1992).
17. David Rojas-Rueda, Audrey de Nazelle, Marko Tainio, and Mark J. Nieuwenhuilsen, “The Health Risks and Benefits of Cycling in Urban Environments Compared with Car use,” Health Impact Assessment Study, British Medical Journal 343, no. 4521 (2011).
18. Thomas Krag, “Cycling, Safety & Health,” European Cycling Federation, February 2005.