Section 4.8 Measuring cycling safety

Sand on the road. Maintenance required. Photo by The Lazy Artist Gallery on Pexels.com

The adage “we should measure what is important” would explain the emphasis on crash statistics for road safety. This data centres on registered motor vehicles and roads. Cyclists are poorly served by it as bicycles are not registered, insured and often far from a road. If safe cycling is a priority for the ACT Government we need data for cyclists too.

The ACT Government takes its duty of care seriously. Duty of care is ensured through systems that have gone through decades of refinement. What is important is measured and monitored. The data should inform government policy which directs investment.

A good example of this is the road system, where decades of research have resulted in standards and practices that ensure our safety and led to continuous improvement. It is paradoxical perhaps that as we make roads safer, we see it as an invitation to drive faster and more carelessly. Studies have shown most people regard themselves as better than average drivers.

Statistics are powerful. The ACT Government has noted the rise of collisions on some ACT roads and produced ACT arterial road maps that display in colours the frequency of collisions.

If the road is coloured red, the collision rate is above a tolerable threshold. Duty of care cuts in at this point, with the obligation to do something about it. A contracted consultancy may recommend measures, such as reducing speeds by just 10 km/h, which would reduce collisions by 30%. This is the nature of speed: small decreases in speed greatly reduce the collision and fatality rates.

Unfortunately, what we do so well for roads and motoring is not done for cycling.

  • It was noted in 2012 by the auditor general that the ACT Government has no system for auditing the quality of paths to determine when maintenance is required.
  • There is no monitoring of cycling traffic along bike paths to determine when the designed capacity of a path is likely to be exceeded.
  • Accident reporting for motorists differs for cyclists. If you broke an arm in an accident you would be expected to call the police on 000 but if you broke an arm riding on the road the 000 call is likely to be unwelcome.
  • Austroads standards have only recently seriously addressed cycling transport. In places like the Netherlands is very advanced.
  • Even if the ACT Government would like to improve cycling in Canberra the private consultants and private contractors that provide the services may be limited and not well informed about cycling best practice. Worse still they are unlikely to be in the ACT. In Germany, the mode share of cycling is around 20% (as opposed to 1% in Australia) and in 2018 when a push to improve cycling infrastructure in Hamburg led to the city “hiring every design consultancy in northern Germany.”

The absence of measures to guarantee and improve cycling safety can be seen as neglecting the principle of duty of care. Injuries to cyclists would seem to be less important than injuries to motorists. There is no reason that this should be the case. We need to give cyclist safety the priority it deserves.

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