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Relative risk in cycling

Risk per participant Risk by time Deaths per year Risk per lifetime Risk by distance and age Risk in past 30 days Other sources

The promotion of cycle helmets portrays cycling as an especially risky activity, but examination of comparative risk data reveals otherwise. It transpires that cycling is in fact one of the safest ways to spend one's time. As well as being safer than the obvious high-risk sports such as climbing, it is also much safer than more 'ordinary' sports such as football, swimming or fishing and, indeed, safer than general 'living' (the net outcome of all causes of death).

The data below compare cycling with other activities based on different indicators.

Risk relative to cycling based on fatality rates per participant (UK)

   
Relative risk per participant
Less safe Airsports
450
  Climbing
137
  Motor sports
81
  Fishing
41
  Horse riding
29
  Swimming
7.0
  Athletics
5.7
  Football
4.9
  Tennis
4.2
  Cycling
1.0
Safer Golf
0.83
  Rambling
0.06

Figures relate to 1986 and are derived from OPAS Monitors from the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys, UK.
The number of fatalities are taken from Coroner's Court records and information on participation rates from the General Household Survey.

Risk by time (US)

   
Fatalities per million hours
Less safe Sky diving
128.71
  General aviation
15.58
  On-road motorcycling
8.80
  Scuba diving
1.98
  Living (all causes of death)
1.53
  Swimming
1.07
  Snowmobiling
0.88
  Passenger cars
0.47
  Water skiing
0.28
  Bicycling
0.26
Safer Flying (scheduled domestic airlines)
0.15
  Hunting
0.08
  Cosmic radiation from transcontinental flights
0.035
  Home living (active)
0.027
  Traveling in a school bus
0.022
  Passenger car post-collision fire
0.017
  Home living (including sleeping)
0.014
  Residential fire
0.003

Data from Failure Analysis Associates, Inc (now Exponent Inc), Design News, 10 April 1993.

Deaths per year (GB)

 

Deaths per year

Cycling, road traffic accidents

138

Cycling, other

29

All transport

3,032

At home

3,974

Other accidents

5,026

Obesity (England only)

30,000

Heart disease due to inactivity

58,090

All heart disease

157,000


These figures take no account of population at risk, but if exposure is taken into account, the risk of being killed through cycling is very small compared with most of the other activities cited.

Risk per lifetime (US)

 
Risk of death during lifetime
Heart disease
1 in 5
Motor vehicle accident
1 in 84
Pedestrian accident
1 in 626
Motorcycle accident
1 in 1,020
Bicycle accident
1 in 4,919

Source: National Geographic, August 2006. These statistics show the relative risk to society; no account is taken of exposure.

Risk by distance and age (NL)

Risk of injury per million km
Age group Motorists (driver) Cyclists
12 - 14

16.8
15 - 17

18.2
18 - 24
33.5
7.7
25 - 29
17.0
8.2
30 - 39
9.7
7.0
40 - 49
9.7
9.2
50 - 59
5.9
17.2
60 - 64
10.4
32.1
> 64
39.9
79.1
Total
20.8
21.0

The statistics for motorists exclude driving on motorways, where risk is very much less than on ordinary roads, for there is no comparable factor for cycling.

The average total risk is biased against cyclists because of the inclusion of two age groups (under 18 years) that do not exist in motorists; two groups, moreover, who have neither the caution nor experience of their elders.

Source: Dekoster & Schollaert, 1999

Risk in past 30 days

Researchers polled 5,238 subjects by telephone, simply asking if they'd  done any of a predetermined set of activities in the past 30 days.  Those who answered  "yes" for a given activity were asked further questions about it,  including whether they were injured "severely enough that you went for  medical care or missed one-half day or more of work, housework, or school." Percentage injured results were: (Powell, 1998)

Aerobics 1.4%
Gardening 1.6%
Walking for exercise 1.4%
Weightlifting 2.4%
Cycling 0.9%

The relative risk between gardening and cycling has been examined in another study. 1,337 people were surveyed for a report on sport and recreation injuries. One in six respondents had required medical treatment in this period, with 5% of gardeners having suffered injury warranting attention compared with 3.9% of cyclists. (CenQueensUniv, 2003)

Other sources

References

CenQueensUniv, 2003

Study by Central Queensland University, Rockhampton, Australia. Reported January 2003.

Dekoster & Schollaert, 1999

Dekoster J, Schollaert U, 1999. Cycling: the way ahead for towns and cities. European Commission ISBN 92-828-5724-7.

Powell, 1998

Powell KE, 1998. Injury rates from walking, gardening, weightlifting, outdoor bicycling and aerobics. Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise 1998;30:1246-1249.

Rahimi et al, 2005

Rahimi SY, Singh H, Yeh DJ, Shaver EG, Flannery AM, Lee MR, 2005. Golf-associated head injury in the pediatric population: a common sports injury. J Neurosurg 2005 Mar;102(2 Suppl):163-6.

See also