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Inj Prev. Sep 2003; 9(3): 205–209.
PMCID: PMC1731007

Safety in numbers: more walkers and bicyclists, safer walking and bicycling

Abstract

Objective: To examine the relationship between the numbers of people walking or bicycling and the frequency of collisions between motorists and walkers or bicyclists. The common wisdom holds that the number of collisions varies directly with the amount of walking and bicycling. However, three published analyses of collision rates at specific intersections found a non-linear relationship, such that collisions rates declined with increases in the numbers of people walking or bicycling.

Data: This paper uses five additional data sets (three population level and two time series) to compare the amount of walking or bicycling and the injuries incurring in collisions with motor vehicles.

Results: The likelihood that a given person walking or bicycling will be struck by a motorist varies inversely with the amount of walking or bicycling. This pattern is consistent across communities of varying size, from specific intersections to cities and countries, and across time periods.

Discussion: This result is unexpected. Since it is unlikely that the people walking and bicycling become more cautious if their numbers are larger, it indicates that the behavior of motorists controls the likelihood of collisions with people walking and bicycling. It appears that motorists adjust their behavior in the presence of people walking and bicycling. There is an urgent need for further exploration of the human factors controlling motorist behavior in the presence of people walking and bicycling.

Conclusion: A motorist is less likely to collide with a person walking and bicycling if more people walk or bicycle. Policies that increase the numbers of people walking and bicycling appear to be an effective route to improving the safety of people walking and bicycling.

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Selected References

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