Lauren O'Keefe

Journalist | Photographer | Cyclist

Category: Melbourne

If cars are safer than ever, why are so many cyclists still dying on our roads?

Of all road users, cyclists are the most likely to die or be injured when they are involved in a road accident.

A examination of ten years’ worth of road fatality and hospitalisation data from the Transport Accident Commission (TAC) covering 2007 to 2017 showed that cyclists are bucking the downwards trend that’s occurring in other groups, with the risk for cyclist fatalities doubling in 2017.

While cyclists make up a tiny portion of the overall number of fatalities on Victorian roads – 12 out of 259 in 2017 – they are most at-risk group, followed by pedestrians who have also seen a small rise in their risk. However, pedestrians are still on a downwards trend overall while cyclists have experienced the opposite.

The news isn’t any better when it comes to hospitalisation due to a road accident.

Cyclists lead in both categories of data collected by TAC – hospitalisation for 14 days or less and hospital stays for over 14 days.

When it comes to a short stay (14 days or less), cyclists are the most likely to be admitted to hospital but there’s an worrying upwards trend for all groups in the last ten years.

When it comes to stays longer than 14 days, all of the other groups have seen a downwards trend except cyclists, with the number creeping back up in 2017 after dropping in 2016.

Australia-wide cyclist fatality rate hasn’t changed for 20 years

While Victoria has seen a rise in cyclist fatalities, crash data studies by the Bicycle Network and the Amy Gillett Foundation have shown that the rate of cyclist deaths over 20 years has remained static. Cyclists are the only road user group Australia-wide that hasn’t seen an improvement in the number of fatalities in the last 20 years.

The Bicycle Network and the Amy Gillett Foundation both used data from the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics (BITRE) to do their studies. The BITRE data showed that on average, 37 cyclists have died each year due a road accident from 1987 to 2017.

According to the Bicycle Network study,  motor vehicles (cars and motor bikes) were involved 83 per cent of accidents where the cyclist was killed while truck and buses were involved 24 per cent of the time. Speed also plays a considerable role – 92 per cent of bike fatalities occurred in speed zones of 50km/h or more. The higher the speed of the vehicle at the point of impact, the more likely a cyclist is to be killed.

“It is unacceptable that there has been no meaningful reduction in the number of bike rider fatalities,” Bicycle Network CEO Craig Richards said.

“Bike rider fatalities in Australia haven’t decreased for two decades and sadly it seems there will be no improvement in 2018. What’s being done isn’t working and there needs to be immediate intervention.”

So, why is this happening?

The most regularly touted explanation is that there are simply more cyclists on the road these days. The problem with this argument is that there is no accurate data on how many people are riding bikes so it’s impossible to prove one way or the other. It also tends to imply that the fault lies with the cyclists.

However, if you ask cyclists what they think is happening, you get a fairly clear answer.

There is evidence to back up the position that it’s car drivers not cyclists causing problems on the road.  According to the Centre for Automotive Safety Research at the University of Adelaide, drivers are at fault at least 79 per cent of the time when an accident occurs between a cyclist and a vehicle.

The Australian Naturalistic Driving Study, a joint study between Monash University Accident Research Centre and the University of New South Wales, has thrown light on what’s going on when people get behind the wheel of their cars.

The study unobtrusively collected information on what car drivers were doing behind the wheel and involved 346 privately owned vehicles and 379 drivers in New South Wales and Victoria.  A data collection system including cameras was installed in each car for four months and tracked nearly two million kilometres of driving.

Driver behaviour was divided between primary and secondary tasks. Primary tasks were actions involved in the safe control of the car, including indicating and changing gears. Everything else was considered a secondary activity and some in-car activities were included such as adjusting seat belts, mirrors and sun visors.

A report was presented at the Australasian Road Safety Conference in early October and the results were startling.

The drivers involved in the study were distracted by a secondary task such as reaching for an object, eating food, personal hygiene or looking their mobile phone every 96 seconds.

Car drivers were distracted for 45 per cent of their total drive time.

When an incident that could’ve endangered others did occur, 23 per cent of the time the car driver was using their mobile phone, 20 per cent had the car driver involved in personal hygiene task and 10.5 per cent happened when the driver was reaching for an object or a phone. The most common incident was not noticing that a traffic light had changed to green, followed by poor situational awareness, swerving into another lane, hard braking and failing to indicate.

Alarmingly, only five per cent of drivers concentrated solely on the task of driving their car.

Mr Richards pointed out that cyclists are more than aware that car drivers aren’t paying 100 per cent attention when they’re driving.

“As bike riders we can see into cars and what drivers are up to. Every day we despair when we see drivers texting or just mucking around on Facebook. We understand the addictive lure of the phone but it’s risking people’s lives,” Mr Richards said.

Cycling IS a reasonably safe activity

But for all the doom and gloom, there is a bright side as cycling is a reasonably safe activity. A crash analysis released by the Bicycle Network in August found that possibility of a cyclist crashing is 0.003 per cent on any day, and 0.99 per cent in a year.

As for a crash that requires hospitalisation; the risk drops to 0.001 per cent on any given day. Mr Richards believes that this data goes a long way to dispelling the myth that cycling is an extremely dangerous activity.

“More people go to hospital each year from falling off chairs than they do falling off bikes.”

Triple R Midday News

Monday October 8, 2018

Written and Produced by Evan Morgan Grahame, Richard Crabtree, Lauren O’Keefe, and Laura Mayers.

Presented by Evan Morgan Grahame, Richard Crabtree and Lauren O’Keefe.

Friday October 5, 2018

Written and Produced by: Beth Gibson, Julia Kanapathippillai, Lauren O’Keefe and Evan Morgan Grahame.

Presenters: Beth Gibson, Julia Kanapathippillai and Evan Morgan Grahame.

Bike path for Rushall Reserve in Fitzroy North

Yarra City Council has decided push ahead with plans to build a bike path in Rushall Reserve, despite objections from some locals.

Wheel woman

Women in cycling gear posing for the camera

Tina McCarthy with some of her ‘wheel women’ at the 2018 Tour Down Under. Photo: Lyz Turner-Clark

Tina McCarthy has a simple goal – to get as many women as possible riding bikes. It’s why she started Wheel Women in December 2012.

In the last five and a half years, Wheel Women has won multiple awards for its work in making cycling more easily accessible for women. McCarthy was awarded the 2018 Cycling Luminaries Award for Leadership and Wheel Women won the Best Outdoor Active Recreation Initiative at the 2017 Victorian Sports Awards. McCarthy was also selected to be an ambassador for VicHealth’s This Girl Can campaign.

Tina McCarthy. Photo: Lyz Turner-Clark

She has achieved much since starting Wheel Women and the social enterprise has helped over a thousand women get on their bikes.

McCarthy had a long and successful career in design and advertising as a graphic designer and art director. She decided to set her own design business in 1996, working with fashion clients as well as small start-up businesses.

However, things changed when she fell pregnant with her son in 1998.

“The plan was that I’d work from the home office as always, look after him and take on what work suited me while he was young. But absolutely nothing went to plan!” McCarthy said.

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Cyclists demand action on tacks thrown on Yarra Boulevard

Since January 2014 tens of thousands of upholstery tacks have been thrown on Yarra Boulevard in Kew by an unknown individual in what appears to be a vendetta against cyclists.

Handful of upholestery tacks

A handful of the thousands of tacks that have been thrown on Yarra Boulevard in Kew. Photo: John Christidis

Yarra Boulevard is a picturesque six and a half kilometre stretch of road that follows the Yarra River in Kew, surrounded by parklands and luxury houses.

The road is popular with cyclists because of its constant rolling hills and low traffic, making it an ideal training ride but since early 2014 it has become a nightmare for those who use it.

Over the past four and a half years, cyclists have experienced thousands of punctures with many being tacked multiple times which led cyclists to report what was happening to Victoria Police.

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These women can

Montage of various women on bikes

If you asked someone to picture a cyclist, odds are they would imagine a middle-aged man in lycra with an expensive bike but there are women who ride and they are just as passionate about it as any MAMIL.

In 2012 Tina McCarthy decided to throw in her successful career as a designer and chase her dream of getting as many women on bikes as she possibly could by establishing Wheel Women, a social enterprise which focuses on teaching women usually aged between 33 – 55 how to ride confidently and safely on the road alone and in a group.

Woman riding a mountain bike

Tina McCarthy having fun on her mountain bike. Photo: Tina McCarthy

McCarthy said she has been in the privileged position of watching women gain confidence on a bike and achieve things they thought were impossible.

“There’s a lady who’s joined in September who hadn’t ridden a bike in years, years and years and she’s coming up for 60 this year and she’d been riding for six weeks before I said ‘why don’t you come do Ride Daylesford?’ which was a 65 kilometre ride.” McCarthy said.

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A man on a mission

Man holding a cup

Stuart Tripp enjoying a quiet moment at the South African round of 2015 Para-cycling World Cup. Photo: Stuart Tripp

There is a sinuous motion to Stuart Tripp’s pedalling style. It’s almost hypnotic. His torso sweeps back and forth smoothly as his arms move in perfect harmony to turn the pedals of his hand-cycle.

Tripp is an Australian Paralympic road cyclist in the H5 category and a silver medalist. His events are the road race and the time trial. He recently returned from the first round of the Para-cycling World Cup in Belgium where he won the road race and came third in the time trial. He is currently preparing for the Para-cycling World Championship in Italy and the August round of the Para-cycling World Cup in Canada.

Two men in hand cycles crossing a finish line

Stuart Tripp winning the men’s road race at the first round of 2018 Para-cycling World Cup. Photo courtesy of Stuart Tripp.

Tripp’s journey to becoming an Australian Paralympian began in 1994 when he was in a horrific car accident in rural Victoria. The accident left Tripp comatose from significant head trauma, with kidney failure and serious crush injuries to both of his legs, including a compound fracture that tore through his right calf leading to an amputation below the knee and serious nerve damage to his left.

After a four and a half month stay at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, Tripp moved to the Royal Talbot Rehabilitation Hospital to learn how to live with a prosthetic leg.

“I’d never injured myself like that before and with no frame of reference to fall back on, I said you just get back on with life again, like you just jump back into life,” Tripp said.

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Violent offender denied bail to attend mother’s funeral

A 29 year old Pakenham man had his hopes of attending his mother’s funeral dashed when he was denied bail today at the Melbourne Magistrates’ court.

Paul Sergides, a self-employed cabinet maker who is in custody after assaulting a man and stealing his car, was told on April 22 that his mother, Anna, had died suddenly of a stroke while on holidays in Greece.

He appeared before Magistrate Mark Stratmann this morning to apply for bail to act as a pall bearer at his mother’s funeral and to care for the remaining members of his family.

Mr McClure, Sergides’ lawyer, argued his client should be granted bail saying that since being told of his mother’s death, his client’s sole focus was caring for his family – his father Michael and brother Sebastian who is legally blind.

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