Rise in Dutch cycling accidents, but Strava probably not to blame

The number of wielrenners (cyclists on racing bikes) treated at Dutch emergency departments has doubled since 2010, according to a study published today. Among a range of possible explanations the authors mention the popularity of apps like Strava:

The increasing popularity of smartphone apps like Strava, which let you keep track of cycling records for certain tracks and compare them with others, can lead to dangerous situations.

Like I said, this is just one of many possible explanations discussed in the report and the authors are by no means suggesting that Strava is a key factor causing cycling accidents. That said, the idea that Strava may have played a role doesn’t seem to be a priori absurd.

Strava was launched in 2009, but when did it become popular in the Netherlands? I couldn’t find any direct data on this, but Google trends is a plausible indicator.

The Google data are pretty clear: interest in Strava didn’t take off until February 2012 in the Netherlands (interestingly, the search volume index is highest in Limburg and Gelderland, which are also the main regions with hills in the Netherlands). As an extra check, I looked at messages at the Fiets.nl forum pages (you need to login in order to be able to search the forum) containing the search term ‘strava’. There were 10 messages prior to 1 February 2012 and 1,843 after that date, which seems to confirm the Google pattern.

By contrast, the number of wielrenners at emergency departments saw its biggest increase between 2010 and 2011. The number was stable at about 2,000 prior to 2011, but rose to 3,700 in 2011 and 4,200 in 2012. So it seems Strava was largely unknown in the Netherlands at the time when the largest increase in cycling accidents happened.

The reason for the study was a media storm last year about supposed irresponsible behaviour of wielrenners towards ‘normal’ cyclists. Car lobby club ANWB even suggested wielrenners should stay at home on sunny days.

In a survey among wielrenners, 45% said wielrenners do not sufficiently adjust their speed and 51% said wielrenners often ride in (too) wide groups. An analysis of 2,849 injury-causing accidents involving two cyclists revealed that in 24 cases a ‘normal’ cyclist got injured as a result of a collision with a wielrenner. So while many wielrenners agree that (some) wielrenners behave irresponsibly, this doesn’t seem to be a major cause of injuries among other cyclists.

Wielrenners themselves have about 2.2 injuries per 100,000 hours of activity. This is much lower than the number for all sports combined (7.1). However, 23% of wielrenners who go to the emergency department have to be treated in hospital, compared to 6% for all sports. So in terms of serious injuries, wielrennen doesn’t seem to be much safer or unsafer than other sports.

While it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of the rise in accidents involving wielrenners, the authors of the report suggest the capacity of cycle paths is no longer sufficient given the rising number of cyclists, including a rise in cycling among people above 55. One of their recommendations is to create more ‘cycling highways’ for fast cyclists.

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