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Big jump in serious cycling crash injuries

The Age: Big jump in serious cycling crash injuries

CLAY LUCAS
December 21, 2009

THE number of cyclists being seriously injured or turning up badly hurt at Victoria’s hospital emergency departments is surging, as bicycle sales boom and cycling is promoted as a commuting option.

In 1999, 1236 cyclists were hospitalised or treated for injuries at emergency departments, figures from Monash University’s Victorian Injury Surveillance Unit show. By 2007 the figure had leapt to 2294, with more than 700 spending at least a night in hospital.

Doctors say the number of injuries to cyclists are probably vastly underreported as many of those hurt went to their general practitioner, who had no way of registering how the injury was sustained.

Last year 1.4 million bicycles were sold in Australia, and governments at all levels are promoting cycling as a healthy, environmentally friendly alternative to the car.

While injuries appear to be rising, just four cyclists have been killed in Victoria so far this year - down from a five-year average of nine.

Marilyn Johnson, a researcher at Monash University’s Accident Research Centre, said people being killed while riding a bicycle seemed to be levelling out. ’’That might be a reflection of better emergency procedures, or better cyclist-driver relations,’’ she said.

The Victorian Injury Surveillance unit analysis, which includes only cyclists older than 15, looked at 14,668 hospital-treated cycling injury cases at Victorian hospitals between 1999 and 2007.

It found that while the number of injuries had increased steadily as the population rose, the number of injuries went up sharply from 2004.

The figures also show that men make up about 80 per cent of all recorded injuries.

Few know the dangers of cycling on Melbourne’s roads better than Michael Forbes. An elite cyclist and triathlete who had ridden competitively for 20 years, he was training for the state road cycling championships when a truck hit him last June while hew was cycling on Beach Road in East Brighton.

’’I was ricocheted into a parked 4WD, which is what broke my neck,’’ he said. The truck driver did not stop, and has not been found.

Mr Forbes spent seven months in hospital, and is now a quadriplegic.

A successful IT consultant before the accident, much of Mr Forbes’ time is now taken up recovering. ’’I’m still doing 25 hours a week of rehab,’’ he says.

The Amy Gillett Foundation, named after the late champion cyclist who died when hit by a car in 2005, last month launched A Metre Matters, a campaign urging drivers to give cyclists more space on the road.

But chief executive Tony Fox said it was important not to overstate the dangers to cyclists. ’’The number of cyclists is increasing at a faster rate than the number being injured - injuries as a percentage of total riders are going down,’’ he said.