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The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) report on Pedal cyclist deaths and hospitalisations[i], when read together with the Sport Australia AusPlay Survey results, shows more can be done to make riding safer.

The AIHW Report compares the national rates of deaths and injury for the 17 years from mid 1999 to mid 2016.  Over this time:

  • 651 pedal cyclists died in crashes, an average of 38 per year
  • 90% of riders killed were male and 90% of crashes were on-road
  • 80% of riders involved in crashes were 25 or older
  • Hospitalisation rates for cyclists rose by 1.5% per year, as motor vehicle hospitalisation rates fell by 1.3% per year
  • upper limb fractures (43%) and head and neck injuries (26%) were the most common
  • 58% of pedal cyclist crashes did not involve a collision, and whilst the cause is not clear, these cases could relate to debris on the road, speed, slippery surfaces or rider action to avoid a collision

In contrast the death rate from physical inactivity is 421 times to the total death rate for people riding bikes and 14 times the total national road toll.

Releasing the AusPlay survey results, Sport Australia CEO Kate Palmer said:

“We need to move more and our lives depend on it. It is estimated physical inactivity now contributes to the deaths of 16,000 Australians every year…”

Cycling is ranked 5th in annual participation, with 2.3 million Australians participating, though only 8% of participation is in an organised sport setting. NSW and Victoria, the most populous states, prohibit adult bike riders using footpaths when they feel unsafe. The recent increase to the age of footpath riding in NSW from 11 to 15 may help, but it’s no surprise that participation in bike riding falls after the age of 11 in the Ausport data.

People who commute to work by bike reduce their risk of dying from cardiovascular disease by 52% and from contracting cancer by 40% compared with people who drive or take public transport.  By providing safe, separated cycling infrastructure governments can reshape communities and the activity levels for the 70% of people who would ride more if they felt safe.

NSW lags behind other states for spend on cycling provision, participation and safety (50% increase in deaths 2016-18). Increased rates of fatal crashes involving heavy vehicles also underline the need for safe separated infrastructure.

Bicycle NSW campaigning saw record funding commitments in the lead up to the NSW State election.  Federal candidates have promised over $1 million for shared paths in the Illawarra region, $6.2 million for shared paths in Parramatta, and $7.5 million was promised by the Coalition and $17 million by Labor for the Northern Rivers Rail Trail in Casino.

“When you read these reports together it brings home the wasted potential of bike riding,” said General Manager of Public Affairs, Bastien Wallace.

“Riding is popular and it’s mostly for recreation and transport, but a lack of safe routes and spaces stops many people riding more often and getting the health benefits they need,” said Bastien.

Bicycle NSW encourages participation in our heavy vehicle campaign to improve road safety, and reminds everyone to talk to their federal candidates in their area about improving provision for bike riding.


[i] AIHW: R Kreisfeld & JE Harrison 2019. Pedal cyclist deaths and hospitalisations, 1999–00 to 2015–16. Injury research and statistics series no. 123. Cat. no. INJCAT 203. Canberra: AIHW.

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