Cycling safety: measure what is important

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

The old adage that we should measure what is important is the case for motor traffic but not cycling. Cycling is not on the radar of ACT Government investment.

It is important to understand that the ACT Government takes its duty of care to the residence of Canberra seriously. The duty of care is ensured through systems, that have gone through decades of refinement. Basically, the system is always the same: what is important is measured and monitored over the years. The goal is to achieve improvements through good government policy that directs investment. Should the figures swing the wrong way, alarm ensues.

A good example of this is the road system where decades of research have result in standards and practices that ensure our safety and led to continual improvement. It is paradoxical perhaps that as we make roads safer, we see it as an invitation to drive more carelessly. Another way to put this is that improvements in road safety are attributed to ourselves as being better than average drivers. Studies have shown most people regard themselves as better than average drivers.

Statistics are powerful. The ACT Government has noted the rise of accidents on some ACT roads and produce ACT arterial road maps that show in red, yellow and green the frequency of accidents. If the road is coloured red, the accident rate is above a tolerable threshold. The duty of care cuts in at this point with the obligation to do something about it. The consultancy may recommend measures, such as reducing speeds by just 10 km/h which would reduce accidents by 30%. This is the nature of speed, that small decreases greatly reduce the accident (and fatality rates).

sign and safety
sign and safety Photo by Skitterphoto on

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. Showing duty to cars is more important than duty to cyclists. For the ACT Government, incompetence is no excuse.

sign and safety
sign and safety Photo by Travis Saylor on

Pedal Power on accident reporting

For a long time, Pedal Power ACT has been wondering what it can do about the lack of accident statistics for cyclists. Accidents for road cyclist is usually the result of infrastructure failure. Either design is inadequate or the maintenance. Some studies show that show roads with cycling lanes are better than roads without but accidents on roads with cycling lanes that are poorly maintained are particularly nasty. Riders in the ACT can understand this. Cycling lanes are inconsistent, never swept, poorly maintained and have interesting features such as drain grates narrow tires can easily catch in and therefore need to be avoided.

If an accident is not reported, it cannot be tracked. That the current ACT system for reporting road accidents is ill-suited to cycling is well known. The ACT Government seems reluctant to do anything about this.

Pedal Power ACT has been negotiating with police to find a way to gather data on cycling accidents. The 000 number would seem the obvious choice, but a cyclist down does not count. The solution seems to call 131 444 for the police and call 000 for the ambulance should you need it. One phone number is not sufficient for the cyclist.

For a number of years, our members have been reporting mixed results when it comes to seeking Police support when they have been in a collision with a motorist.

As a result, we have been working with ACT Policing to ensure there is one agreed preferred process for bike riders to follow if they are ever in a crash.

So here it is – If you’re hit by a car while cycling and you suffer injury to any extent, please contact the Police Assistance Line – 131 444 – while you are still at the scene (or 000 in a life-threatening emergency). Let the operator know you have been injured and you would like the police to attend. This call does not guarantee police attendance, but it does set in train some important processes that can be tracked.

If you’re not injured and there are no safety hazards on the road, you don’t need to call the police from the scene, but we urge you to call the police, on 131 444, to report the collision within 24 hours. Your call will be recorded by police operators.

Pedal Power is very keen to track the effectiveness of this preferred system of reporting. If you call 131 444 and the phone operators do not allocate your matter to the police and you are referred to an online form instead, please contact your Pedal Power advocates at

Safety and hazards on CBR Cycle Route C5, Aranda bike path, Belconnen, Canberra
Safety and hazards on CBR Cycle Route C5, Aranda bike path, Belconnen, Canberra

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