02 April 2009

You're Safer Than Ever in Danish Traffic

Copenhagen Cyclists
I was sent a link to a paper from the Technical University of Denmark's Dept of Transport. The paper was published in November 2008 and I was surprised I didn't see it. I was less surprised to realise that this paper was not covered in the press here in Denmark.

The media, egged on by various organisations, has revelled in an orgy of violence over the past year. The main headlines on the news have been a constant stream of horror and destruction. It isn't suprising that a headline like this - Safety in Traffic Continues to Improve - doesn't fit in well with the bloodthirsty angle the Danish media has promoted of late.

The paper from DTU Transport [available here in Danish as a pdf]shows that the risk rate in traffic fell between 2000-2007 for all users except for scooter riders. And this fall is a continuation of the fall measured between 1992-1999.

Improving risk rates for cyclists between the ages of 16-74 between 2000-2007.

Good news. Great news. Did it get into the headlines so citizens could be reassured? Nope. Positive messages don't sell, apparently.

What an irritating paper if you're one of the organisations who aim to market helmets, too. Since the 1960's there has been a constant, reassuring improvement in cycling safety and, as the paper suggests, it continues to get getter. Getting this message out will encourage more people to cycle. Period.

I've spoken to the parents of my son's classmates and many of them express an opinion that cycling has gotten more dangerous since they were children. One woman even asked if any other parents 'dared' ride with their kids to school.

That question amazed me. We almost all live within walking distance of the school and she hesitates to cycle with her kid. And demographically speaking, these are all highly-educated people with good jobs.

All of these parents are, as a rule, quite stunned to hear me tell them that it has never been safer to cycle in Denmark. That the chances of getting in an accident are vastly slimmer than when we were young. Especially with a fantastic network of bike lanes that take you anywhere you want to go.

They are amazed to hear this simple fact because of a negative tendency in Denmark to focus on the danger, even when there isn't any. The organisations that promote this fear-mongering are picking away at our bicycle culture. They are succeeding to a great degree when you hear parents express such fears.

Who is there in Denmark to promote cycling as something positive? Something healthy, safe and good for society? Where are these organisations? Do we have to get the Dutch Fietsersbond or the British CTC or the German/French/Belgian cyclists orgs to set up offices here and do the work for us?

As mentioned previously, we had a similar period of fearmongering back in the early 1990's and the result was that parents stopped cycling with their kids to school, driving them instead. We bucked the trend here in Copenhagen, but now we're starting all over again.

We need focus on how safe cycling is, how healthy it is and we need to reinstate a sense of pride among the citizens of this country about how we are a world-leader with regards to cycling.

Addendum: I posted back in February about how the Bicycle is Booming - Just Not in Denmark. I mentioned that the bicycle retailers' organisation estimated that bike sales would be down 5% for 2007. The number ended up being 7% down. Thanks, Road Safety Council! Have a nice drive to work!