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What can be said of the “worrying increase” in cyclist deaths?

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244. This is the number of cyclists who lost their lives on the roads of France in 2022, according to the provisional report of the National Interministerial Road Safety Observatory (ONISR) released Tuesday, January 31. A 30% increase from the last pre-pandemic year, 2019. “Unfortunately, and this goes hand in hand with the development of soft mobility, there is a worrying increase in the mortality of cyclists and users of motorized personal transport vehicles. [EDPM] »lamented the interministerial delegate for road safety, Florence Guillaume.

This increase qualified of“disturbing” by many media has also inspired articles on a new apprehension of two-wheeled urban transport. Europe 1 has as well dedicated a topic To “those French” Who ” by fear (…) have stopped using their bikes in town”.

Except that, despite the absence of raw data – the details will only be made public in the spring – the analysis of the few trends raised in this report paints a slightly different picture.

  • The countryside more dangerous than the cities

It may be counter-intuitive, but it’s not in an urban environment that a cyclist is most at risk. For example, a single person lost his life while cycling in Paris in 2022.

It is rather outside built-up areas that the danger is concentrated, as the ONISR already explained in 2021: “Mortality in agglomeration (+ 7%) increases four times less quickly than (…) practice, outside urban areas [la hausse de la mortalité] is much more marked (+37%)”.

Seniors on leisure outings are the most exposed. In 2022, 38% of cyclists killed are over 55 and lost their lives on a country road, and the main increase in mortality concerns people aged 75 and over, still outside urban areas, on Wednesdays.

Already, in 2014, in his book Pedal Power. How cycling transforms our dented societiesthe journalist of World Olivier Razemon pointed to this overrepresentation. “To sum up in broad strokeshe illustrates, the Sunday sportsman, Lycra shorts, colorful jersey and profiled helmet, runs a much higher risk than the Nantes employee who rides a Bicloo, hair in the wind, to go to the office. »

Among the various possible explanations, the speed two to three times higher of cars compared to bicycles – a fortiori in the departments where the authorized speed limit has been raised to 90 km / h, the only departments where mortality on the roads progressed in 2022. “It’s a completely lethal speed for cyclists”, warns Thibault Quéré, spokesperson for the Federation of Bicycle Users (Fubicy), who also mentions risky behavior (alcohol, narcotics, speeding). Another cause: the lack of cycle facilities on departmental and national roads. “It’s the blind spot of public policy,” regrets the engineer specialist in sustainable mobility Mathieu Chassignet.

  • An increase in practice leads to an increase in safety

The increase in deaths of cyclists on the roads must also be put in the context of a boom in urban travel by small wheel since the Covid-19 pandemic. The practice of cycling in the city has indeed increased by 34% in 2022, according to figures from Vélo & territories cited by ONISR in its provisional report of accidents in 2022. However, urban mortality is progressing at half the rate (16%).

As has been observed in other countries, the more the number of bicycle users increases, the lower their relative mortality, as well as that of pedestrians and even motorists. Indeed, continues Olivier Razemon, “Cyclists contribute, by their very presence, to slowing down traffic. The more numerous they are, the more they cause motorists and motorcyclists to slow down. This is called the “security by numbers”explains Mathieu Chassignet:

“First, motorists are used to their presence and take them into account more; moreover, the balance of power is reversed on the road, the motorist can no longer drive; finally, more and more motorists travel themselves from time to time by bicycle and become aware of the issues of cohabitation. »

In the Netherlands, a country particularly committed to the small queen, the number of accidents per kilometer traveled is lower than that of France. On the contrary, it is very high in the United States, where car culture predominates.

  • The main dangers in the city: doors, intersections and heavy goods vehicles

This does not mean that cycling in the city is without risk. For several years, several situations have been known to be extremely dangerous.

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The first is that of a truck turning to its right at a crossroads, without seeing the cyclist in its blind spot. According to a detailed analysis carried out by Release in 2019, women are more likely to have been victims of this type of fatal accident in Paris. Men would be less exposed to it, as they would be more inclined to cross red lights before motorized vehicles enter.

The second concerns car doors, when they suddenly open on the side of a cyclist. La Fubicy also cites poorly marked or poorly designed priority intersections, which “turn into choppers into cyclists” according to Thibault Quéré, since bicycles are both the rightmost and most vulnerable vehicles.

But infrastructure is not the only issue. In the Nederlands, where 20% of bicycle accidents do not involve another user than the cyclist, the origin is often linked to dangerous behavior: driving under the influence, using a smartphone, or even excessive speed.