Thursday 23 November 2017

How cycling injuries are spiralling - a medic's view

And our Road Safety Authority expert pleads for greater tolerance from other road users

Worrying: 630 cyclists injured in road accidents in 2012, a 59% rise when compared with the previous year
Worrying: 630 cyclists injured in road accidents in 2012, a 59% rise when compared with the previous year

John Kelly is an orthopaedic surgeon at Castlebar General Hospital. He deals with many injured road users on a weekly basis and he recorded our road safety radio message this week.

In the recording he draws our attention to the fact that there has been a worrying increase in the number of cyclists injured on our roads.

The research department in the RSA has conducted a detailed analysis of cyclist casualties in 2012.

It shows that 630 cyclists were injured that year. That is a 59pc increase on 2011. It's also a 10-year high. Just more than half the cyclists were injured on Dublin streets.

Most injuries occurred during mid-week evening and morning rush-hour as well as lunchtime. Injuries peaked from May to September.

Two-out-of-five were cycling for leisure. The majority were middle-aged men.

A large number of injuries occurred at junctions where observation for cyclists and drivers is so important.

In preparing to record his message, John mentioned that he tends to see all types of cycling-related injuries in his orthopaedic practice.

The human skeleton has 206 bones; every one of them is breakable. The chance of breaking one, or more, is higher for a cyclist falling at speed, after a high-velocity impact.

The collision figures are backed up by John. He says there is little doubt we are seeing significant increases in cycling-related injuries.

This probably has to do with the increasing popularity of cycling as a result of the bike-to-work scheme. And maybe it is the greater emphasis on cycling as a means of improving and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

The numbers cycling have certainly increased in recent years, and particularly in cities.

Central Statistics Office (2011) figures show a 9.6pc increase in people cycling to work. Men account for the majority of those (75pc).

However, for John and other orthopaedic surgeons, every day, in every hospital, they are dealing with:

* the commuting cyclist who fell over and fractured a wrist,

*the drunken reveller who's done a job on his elbow cycling home from the pub,

* the cyclist who has been taken out by a car,

* or the weekend MAMIL (that's Middle Aged Man in Lycra) who's done his ankle, clavicle, humerus or some other bone.

According to John, most cycling-related injuries are a temporary inconvenience, requiring 6-8 weeks in a cast, a sabbatical from work but no major long-term problems.

The more severe injuries often require a trip to the operating theatre.

However, the worst injuries are the ones affecting the spine. The types of injuries that will threaten your ability to ever walk or hold your child again. These injuries are emerging at an ever-increasing frequency to young fit and healthy people.

A recent study shows a 200pc increase in spinal trauma from cycling injuries referred to the National Spinal Centre, over a four-year period.

Competitive cycling has been a factor for many severely injured patients during this period too where the cyclists run into street furniture or a stationary vehicle.

Collisions involving other vehicles are a big factor in many injuries; here the speed of the vehicle simply doesn't give the cyclist a chance.

Cyclists have a responsibility to observe the rules of the road, but we need to stop treating them like a virus that's infected the arteries of our road network. They have a right to the road just like anyone else. They are extremely vulnerable and we need to start seeing and treating them like human beings.

Are you a cyclist? What are your views? Let us know here at ecunningham@independent.ie

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