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Thursday, July 11, 2013

Risks of cycling, walking and driving put in context

Risks of cycling, walking and driving put in context

The benefits of cycling or walking outweigh the risks of death or injury from accidents, two health experts argue.

We read with interest The Vancouver Sun article “It may be time to start talking about licensing bikes” and the subsequent letters to the editor. We agree that an open and constructive discussion of cycling issues is needed. We are writing to provide a more complete public health context, since there may be misconceptions.

We address three issues related to modes of transport: the burden (or number) of injuries; the risk (or rate) of injuries; and other potential risks and benefits of various modes.

The burden of deaths and head injuries
The editorial suggests that “cycling remains the biggest cause of traumatic brain injury for all other forms of recreational activity among young people.” By this, we presume the authors meant the single most important recreational cause of traumatic head injuries. In Canada, cycling accounts for 10 per cent of head injury hospitalizations in kids. Of course, this includes mountain biking, the most risky cycling activity. We think that cycling as discussed in the article is better compared with other modes of transportation.

The most recent B.C. Traffic Accident Reports (2005 to 2007) indicate that, on average each year, there were 31 children (up to age 19) who had head injuries when cycling, 60 when walking, and 703 when in a car, SUV, van or truck. Unfortunately, this data only include crashes with motor vehicles, so it does miss some cycling and walking injuries.

Deaths are often considered a better comparison measure, since they almost always involve crashes with motor vehicles, are reliably recorded, and are the most devastating type of injury. So how do deaths compare between modes? British Columbia Motor Vehicle Branch data for the same years indicate there were 10 deaths a year on average (all age groups) when cycling, 70 when walking, and 300 when driving.

Thus, bicycling had the lowest “burden” of deaths and head injuries of the three transportation modes. The numbers of deaths and head injuries indicate that all modes of transportation deserve public health attention.

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