Study: What Puts Cyclists at Greatest Risk? It’s Not What You Wear

When a cyclist is killed or seriously injured, the responses you hear often pin the blame squarely on the victim. “Why wasn’t she wearing a helmet?” Or, “Why was he wearing dark clothing? “


Going without bright, reflective gear did not have an impact on cyclist injury severity, according to a new study. Photo: Richard Masoner/Flickr

But according to a new study [PDF] by a team of Canadian university researchers, those factors don’t seem to have much impact on the overall severity of injury when cyclists are hurt in collisions.

The report looked at injury severity among about 700 adults in Toronto and Vancouver who were hospitalized after a bike collision or fall. Researchers teased out which factors had the biggest impact on the extent of people’s injuries.

Here’s what they found.

What DID Put Cyclists at Greater Risk? 

Being hit by car

Duh, of course! But this point is worth reiterating. The cyclists who were injured in collisions with cars, or by falling to avoid a car collision, were more severely injured than people who just fell, or were involved in a collision with another cyclist or pedestrian.

Riding on sidewalks or shared use paths

Researchers found that people who were injured while riding on sidewalks or shared-use paths tended to sustain worse injuries, even compared to cyclists riding on major roads with no bike infrastructure. These counterintuitive results suggest that riding in places with potential conflicts between cyclists and pedestrians can be more dangerous than people assume. An earlier study by the same research team found people riding on sidewalks and multi-use paths were also more likely overall to be involved in a collision or crash.

Riding downhill

Logically enough, cyclists who were riding downhill at the time of the collision were likely to sustain worse injuries.

Riding in areas with fast-moving cars

There was a statistically significant connection between injury severity and riding along high-speed roads.

What WASN’T Linked to More Severe Injury? 

All of these characteristics about the way people rode did not have a statistically significant impact on injury severity among the subjects in this study.

Helmet use

The study looked at all types of injuries, not just head injuries. Helmets only prevent head injuries and only certain types, researchers noted. Those effects did not register in this study, which found helmets had no statistically significant impact on overall injury severity.

Weather conditions

While time of day may be a risk factor, with night-time riding being slightly more dangerous than riding during the day, inclement weather was not associated with greater risk of severe injury.

Location of crash at an intersection

Cyclists were not more likely to be badly injured if their fall or crash occurred at an intersection.

Other factors with no statistically significant link to worse injuries: wearing dark or light clothing, road signage about the presence of cyclists, and whether the cyclist had taken a cycling training course.

The researchers concluded that the study shows an “urgent need” for bike facilities that separate cyclists from motor vehicles, as well as routes that offer slower motor vehicle speeds and gradual inclines.