Hierarchy of Safety

We all want to improve safety, especially for our children: it’s top of the list of reasons holding people back from cycling more.

How do we improve our safety on the road?  Where should we focus our time & resources?

I recently discovered the “Hierarchy of Controls” used by risk managers everywhere.  This example is designed by NIOSH:

Adapted for cycling, we get this:

What strikes me is that it’s the inverse of how most non-cycling parents I’ve met think: parents will buy their child a helmet and hi-vis and insist they wear them, but they won’t accompany their child to check they’re using the safest possible route or know how to use their gears & brakes.

The most effective way to improve road safety is to ride the safest possible route.  Can you route any part of your ride through a park, away from roads, or on protected bike paths?  Is there a safer crossing earlier/later?  Does your route need to change when you’re going in the other direction?  Is the pavement safer than the road?  A safe route is the #1 way to improve your road safety.  Small details here can make big safety improvements.

Next up, develop your road skills and bike skills.  Skills need practice: they don’t come automatically.  Practice in a park, practice with parents, ask your Bike Bus ride leader for tips, learn how traffic behaves and how to anticipate problems.  How can you help traffic see you & know where you’re going?  What mistakes do drivers make, and how can you avoid their mistakes?  How does traffic respond to your road position & speed?  How do you handle potholes, changes in gradient, or vehicles changing direction?

A bike with good brakes & tyres, a helmet, lights and hi-visibility clothing can be simply bought with money.  Everyone should have them.  But the more valuable safety controls are free: they need time and patience to develop, and are considerably more important.  

Wear a helmet, every ride, of course, but focus your main attention on your route and developing your skills.

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