Will more cyclists make the sport safer in 2015?


Cape Town - Everybody is saying it: we need to get more people on bicycles on our roads. The environmental, health and economic benefits are obvious.

But the headlines are shouting back: “Cyclist killed” or “Mountain biker hijacked”.

Internationally, the safety of cyclists has improved as the number of cyclists increases: for example, more cyclists on the streets of Danish cities Copenhagen and Odense resulted in a decrease in the number of accidents.

But how do we get more South Africans on bicycles when their safety is often threatened?

It’s obvious SA is a dangerous place for road cycling, and even people who take to the mountains are being hijacked in alarming numbers.

Arrive Alive statistics show that in 2010 more than 250 cyclists were killed and 800 injured. A year later the number of fatalities recorded was 222. In January 2013 the carnage was highlighted when South Africa’s top mountain biker, Burry Stander, was killed on a training ride on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast.

Bicycle hijackings are routinely reported on websites dedicated to the sport. In 2014 a cyclist in Somerset West recorded a hijacking on the GoPro camera attached to his helmet: the assailant was brandishing a handgun.

Government backing

Provincial authorities responsible for road safety have generally embraced the need for more non-motorised transport on roads. The Western Cape government has been pursuing an ambitious campaign to get commuters on bicycles, and in November last year passed legislation making it an offence for a motorist to come within one metre of a cyclist.

The Gauteng government has launched a similar project to get more cyclists on the roads.

Gauteng Transport MEC Ismail Vadi fleshed out details of the plan, saying a significant thrust would be to make cycling “cool” - it is seen as a poor person’s choice in some communities - and to introduce rigid traffic enforcement. Like the Western Cape, Gauteng has started developing cycling lanes.

Technology helping

Internationally, several high-tech safety initiatives are being developed. These include a motion-activated sensor on a bicycle that communicates with sensors in vehicles and alerts the driver when a cyclist is nearby. Volvo recently teamed up with POC cycling helmets to include similar warning sensors in both their products.

Meanwhile, a Stellenbosch company has developed a sensor that gives a cyclist the speed and distance of vehicles approaching from behind.  

But there is general consensus among cycling activists that a change in culture has to start in people’s minds, and that public education campaigns are key to changing the way drivers and cyclists use the road.

Corporate involvement

Vehicle safety company Tracker has launched a RideFree initiative designed to do exactly this. The company has been involved in cycling events such as the Absa Cape Epic, where it provides each team with mobile tracking devices that can be followed online during the eight-day event.

It has also launched what it calls an “holistic” programme designed to ensure safer cycling. The programme is designed around creating safe cycling environments.

According to Tracker’s General Manager; Marketing, Charlette Roetz: “Our safe bike parks are proving increasingly popular, showing that the Ride Free initiative is playing a meaningful part in the national effort to maintain the freedom and safety of cyclists.”

Tracker has been sponsoring and developing cycle parks, initially within Gauteng, where cyclists can access safe, secure mountain bike tracks.

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