There are some 800 million bicycles in the world, twice the number of cars. In Asia alone, bicycles carry more people than do all the world's cars. Nonetheless, in many countries, bicycle injuries are not given proper recognition as part of the road safety problem and attract little research. In Beijing, China, about a third of all traffic deaths occur among bicyclists. In India, bicyclists represent between 12% and 21% of road user fatalities, the second-largest category after pedestrians. While some consideration has been given to pedestrians' needs, especially as they cross roads and come into direct conflict with vehicle flows, bicycles, non-motorised vehicles and motorcycles are often left to manage in the general traffic stream alongside larger and faster motor vehicles.
Cyclists have a difficult position in traffic. They are sometimes supposed to follow rules for motorists, sometimes rules like those intended for pedestrians. Their needs are similar to those of pedestrians (shortest routes, smooth surfacing), but they are taken into account in traffic as a last resort. The situation does not encourage homogeneous patterns of behaviour. The younger cyclists are not yet able to cope with all the traffic signs and rules that apply to them. Young cyclists often like to play and show off, which leads to risk taking. There is also some amount of recklessness among adult cyclists, especially at signalised intersections, where they are often more inclined to act upon their own perception of traffic rather than wait for the red light and when performing turning movements. Elderly cyclists' capability to cope with the traffic situation and concentrate on cycling decreases with age; cyclists tend to react more slowly. Just like pedestrians, they choose the shortest possible route to reach their destination, which sometimes leads them to use one-way streets in the wrong direction, or to cycle on the pavement, thus creating conflicts with pedestrians. The influence of alcohol can very much affect the ability to ride a bicycle safely.
There is a close relationship between vehicle speed and safety, that materialises in two ways: the probability of a road crash taking place increases with speed; and the outcome of the crash strongly depends on the collision speed. As the words "vulnerable road users" imply, cyclists and pedestrians are more likely to suffer from a collision/conflict than car drivers and passengers. Most reported severe and fatal accidents involving cyclists have been found to occur either at road junctions, or at crossings between a street and a cycle track. This is particularly the case in urban areas. Accidents appear to be more severe when the cyclist is hit by a turning vehicle - but falls, skidding accidents, and hitting obstacles like the kerb can also be harmful to the cyclists. Cyclists using pedestrian facilities can also prove dangerous, mostly to pedestrians. Drivers do not always follow the traffic rules either, or just simply fail to see the cyclists.
Conflict areas in the road environment need to be addressed in a realistic and pragmatic manner trying to ensure safe manoeuvring for the cyclists and without getting into conflicts with motorised road users. Various facilities can be provided along road links. These facilities can be categorized into segregated measures, either by physical (barriers) or visual (road markings) means, usually separating motorized and non- motorized traffic. Where non-motorised vehicles have been banned from using certain roads, it is important that an alternative network exist. Although cycle tracks have been found a good safety measure on road links, provided the width of the track is sufficient and care has been taken to prevent accidents with vehicles parking, safety problems may remain at intersections.
The potential for conflicts between non-motorised and motor vehicles is greatest at intersections, where segregation of traffic is not always possible or suitable. As a result, these conflicts account for a large proportion of all cycle accidents. All intersections should preferably be marked and signposted in order to provide clear instructions and directions to motor vehicle drivers and non-motorised vehicles users alike. Different design/priority options/turning restrictions exist for priority junctions, roundabouts and signalised intersections to make them more safe.
The enforcement of traffic regulations governing all road users and vehicles is essential for the safety of cyclists. Regulations relating to motor vehicles that can increase road safety include the enforcement of speed restrictions and waiting restrictions in the vicinity of on-road cycle lanes. Similarly, cyclists have a responsibility to acknowledge and obey the various traffic laws, traffic signals, have lane discipline, and not encroach on to the footway. Behaviour and compliance can be further improved by education of the cyclist. Furthermore, it is important that cycles are as fit for the road as any motor vehicle. Hence equipment such as helmets, reflectors, headlights, and braking systems should be fitted and in good working order. There are some controversial issues related to bicycle helmet use, but in case of a fall or a crash a crash helmet will increase the chance of survival (from head injuries) by up to 40%. For more information on helmets and helmet wearing please follow the link.
To learn more about vulnerable road users we suggest downloading the following key documents: