Sixty-two percent of Australians want to ride a bike for transport purposes but road safety fears are preventing them, according to a national survey conducted by the Cycling Promotion Fund (CPF) and the National Heart Foundation of Australia.
According to Stephen Hodge, spokesperson for the CPF, the main reasons why people were not riding bikes were unsafe road conditions (46 percent), speed/volume of traffic (42 percent), not feeling safe while riding (41 percent) and lack of bike lanes/trails (35 percent).
More than 80 percent of respondents believed the federal government should be doing more to promote a safe cycle culture and more than 60 percent wanted the government to do more to encourage people to ride a bike to work and for transport in general.
“We want to see existing bike lanes connected to each other, dedicated bike lanes physically separated from motor traffic installed and a comprehensive road users education campaign to raise awareness and make cycling safer,” said Mr Hodge.
The "fear factor" seems fairly firmly entrenched in the UK too; a 2007 survey by the Department for Transport found that 47 percent of adults agreed with the statement "the idea of cycling on busy roads frightens me". However, there is a considerable body of evidence that suggests such safety fears are unfounded, or at least largely exaggerated.
A research publication on CPF's own website quotes a 2002-2003 study ranking sports injuries admitted to Australian hospitals, per 100,000 participants, with cycling coming third from bottom in a group of 12 sports. Top was motor sports, followed by roller sports and Australian Rules Football. Only running and walking showed lower per capita injury rates than cycling, which itself showed a lower rates of injuries than such sports as netball and horse riding.
A British Medical Association study concluded that the health benefits of cycling far outweighed the dangers of inactivity such as diabetes – even with the danger from road traffic taken into account. And a study by UK sociologist Dave Horton quotes numerous examples to back up the role of fear in deterring cyclists – and not just fear of busy and potentially dangerous traffic; "Fears of cycling may also include fear of being on view, of working one’s body in public, fear of harassment and violence from strangers," says Horton.