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Cyclists were the only group of road users in Britain whose death rate increased sharply during the 1990s,1 yet cycling was in decline throughout the decade.2 How could this happen, when attention on casualties was the most intense in the history of the bicycle? Perhaps a vision of the near future will be instructive . . .
It is worth pausing here to consider the meaning of “road safety.” The roads can get more dangerous, yet total deaths still fall. Compulsion to wear a seatbelt cut deaths among drivers and front seat passengers by 25% in 1983. But in the subsequent years, the long established trend of declining deaths in car accidents reversed, and by 1989 death rates among car drivers were higher than they had been in 1983. Evidently the driving population “risk compensated” away the substantial benefits of seatbelts by taking extra risks, putting others in more danger. This period saw a jump in deaths of cyclists (fig (fig1).1). Although temporary, the jump can be explained fully only by cyclists having adapted to a more dangerous road environment through extra caution, retreat, or giving up. Is it coincidence that the long decline in cycling began in 1983?
Between 1974 and 1982 cycling mileage in Britain increased 70%, but there was no increase in fatalities until the seatbelt law was introduced in 1983 (fig (fig1).1). The more cyclists there are, the more presence they have, the less individual danger there is. This truth is confirmed by experience in the Netherlands and Denmark, where cycling is far safer despite a tradition of segregation. All road users should gain. Pedestrians benefit because (skilful) cyclists are little threat to them and because a large increase in cycling should reduce traffic speeds and thus risks to all. Then there are the health benefits.
The plausibility of the aggressive driver hypothesis cries out for more research. For example, Hawaii, the state with the most rigorously enforced seat belt law and the highest compliance rate in the nation, has experienced an increase in traffic fatalities and fatality rates since its law went into effect in December 1985…
A recent statistical study of states with and without seat belt laws was undertaken by Professor Christopher Garbacz of the University of Missouri-Rolla. This study seems to support the altered driver behavior hypothesis. Dr. Garbacz found that states with seat belt laws saw decreases in traffic fatalities for those covered by the laws (typically drivers and front-seat passengers), but increases in fatalities for rear-seat passengers, cyclists, and pedestrians. Further, the patterns of changes in total traffic fatalities among the states showed no consistent relationship with the existence of a seat belt law in the state.
Originally posted by CX
Interesting thread, thanks for sharing.
As someone who used to attend traffic accidents on a daily basis, i have to say i'm glad they were introduced, it saved me from attending more fatalities than i already did.
That said, as an ex motorbike rider, you do have a different awareness when you are on a bike and maybe that is indeed due to having nothing to protect you.
What happens is seatbelt laws cause drivers to drive more aggressively. Because drivers feel safer with quick acceleration and breaking while wearing seatbelts, accident rates actually increase.
Cyclists were the only group of road users in Britain whose death rate increased sharply
As the factors involved in collisions have become better understood, some organizations have begun to avoid the term "accident," as the word suggests an unpreventable, unpredictable event and disregards the opportunity for the driver(s) involved to avoid the crash. Although auto collisions are rare in terms of the number of vehicles on the road and the distance they travel, addressing the contributing factors can reduce their likelihood. For example, proper signage can decrease driver error and thereby reduce crash frequency by a third or more. That is why these organizations prefer the term "collision" rather than "accident".
However, treating collisions as anything other than "accidents" has been criticized for holding back safety improvements, because a culture of blame may discourage the involved parties from fully disclosing the facts, and thus frustrate attempts to address the real root causes.
"the feeling of being confident in more and more challenging situations is experienced as evidence of driving ability, and that 'proven' ability reinforces the feelings of confidence. Confidence feeds itself and grows unchecked until something happens – a near-miss or an accident".
It can safely be said that many places which look dangerous do not have accidents, or very few. Conversely, a location that does not look dangerous may have a high crash frequency. The reason for this is simple. If drivers perceive a location as hazardous, they take more care and there are no accidents. Accidents happen when hazardous road or traffic conditions are not obvious at a glance, or where the conditions are too complicated for the limited human machine to perceive and react in the time and distance available.
This phenomena has been observed in risk compensation research, where the predicted reductions in accident rates have not occurred after legislative or technical changes. One study observed that the introduction of improved brakes resulted in more aggressive driving, and another argued that compulsory seat belt laws have not been accompanied by a clearly-attributed fall in overall fatalities.
Research has shown that, across all collision types, it is less likely that seat belts were worn in collisions involving death or serious injury, rather than light injury; wearing a seat belt reduces the risk of death by about two thirds. Seat belt use is controversial, with notable critics such as Professor John Adams suggesting that their use may lead to a net increase in road casualties due to a phenomenon known as risk compensation.
Motorcyclists have little protection other than their clothing; this difference is reflected in the casualty statistics, where they are more than twice as likely to suffer severely after a collision. In 2005 there were 198,735 road crashes with 271,017 reported casualties on roads in Great Britain. This included 3,201 deaths (1.1%) and 28,954 serious injuries (10.7%) overall. Of these casualties 178,302 (66%) were car users and 24,824 (9%) were motorcyclists, of whom 569 were killed (2.3%) and 5,939 seriously injured (24%).