How Safe Is Cycling? It’s Hard to Say
Gina Kolata, health reporter for the NY Times, reports on the controversy surrounding bicycle safety and studies by UCSF trauma surgeons demonstrating that serious accidents may be significantly underreported:
Until his bike slid out of control while he was going 35 miles an hour downhill around a sharp turn, Dr. Harold Schwartz thought cycling accidents were something that happened to other people. Now, after recovering from a fractured pelvis, Dr. Schwartz, 65, the vice president for behavioral health at Hartford Hospital in Connecticut, has changed his mind.
“No one is immune,” he said in an interview. Like many avid cyclists, he is convinced that it is not if you crash. It’s when.
But Rob Coppolillo, 43, who was an elite level amateur bicycle racer for 10 years, led cycling tours in Italy and regularly rides in his town, Boulder, Colo., begs to differ. He’s never had an injury more serious than a little road rash, he says.
“For the vast majority of us, it’s a pretty safe sport,” he said....................
“There is no trend,” said Linda Degutis, the director of the agency’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, who added that bicycling seemed no more dangerous than other sports.
Dr. Rochelle Dicker, a trauma surgeon at the University of California, San Francisco, does not see it that way. She cares for victims of the worst bicycle injuries, people who might need surgery and often end up in intensive care. So she decided to investigate those crashes.
She and her colleagues reviewed hospital and police records for 2,504 bicyclists who had been treated at San Francisco General Hospital. She expected that most of these serious injuries would involve cars; to her surprise, nearly half did not. She suspects that many cyclists with severe injuries were swerving to avoid a pedestrian or got their bike wheels caught in light-rail tracks, for example. Cyclists wounded in crashes that did not involve a car were more than four times as likely to be hurt so badly that they were admitted to the hospital. Yet these injuries often did not result in police reports — a frequent source of injury data — and appeared only in the hospital trauma registry.
Dr. Dicker is not a cyclist, but she said, “Lots of my colleagues do not want to ride after seeing these injuries.”
Her study seems to give credence to the “not if, but when” camp, or at least justify a fear of bicycle crashes. Still, if the statistics show cycling to be relatively safe, why do so many people know (or know of) cyclists who have had serious injuries? Why does the sport seem so dangerous?.............