Kevin Gildea was hit off his bike by a car in 2015, in the last year of his undergraduate degree in biomechanical engineering at Trinity College Dublin.
“It was actually just after my final exams,” he says. He was bed-bound for four months with a broken leg.
After this, Gildea says, he had a clear idea of what he wanted to focus on in his PhD.
“It was like somebody was telling me what to do.”
He’s looking into what causes cyclist collisions in Ireland, he says, and ways to prevent people from getting injured.
In Gildea’s latest paper, which he co-wrote with Professor in Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering Ciaran Simms, called “Characteristics of cyclist collisions in Ireland: Analysis of a self-reported survey”, they found that cycling collisions are significantly under-reported to An Garda Síochána.
This is something Gildea knew already though, he says.
“Other studies have alluded to that in the past and we didn’t have any access to this large cohort of under-reported cases,” he says.
The Road Safety Authority (RSA) base their injury prevention strategies on Gardái data on cycling collisions, Gildea says.
Under-reporting of such incidents, though, could have an effect on policymaking further down the line, says the report.
So to plug the information gap around collisions, Gildea and Simms sent out a survey to cyclists all around the country.
Show Me The Data
Of the 3,900 cyclists who responded to Gildea’s survey, just over 1,000 said they had been in cycling collisions with injuries. Of those, just 23 percent had reported the collision to Gardaí, according to the study.
“We want to understand what is going on with 77 percent of collisions that you’re not seeing,” Gildea says.
More than 1,000 people who responded to the survey said that they had been involved in a collision.
Most people (56 percent) reported collisions between cyclists and motorised vehicles, said the report. Just over a quarter (29 percent) had a single-cyclist collision, which involves just one bike and an accident, say, because of uneven road surfaces or a collision with a bollard.
Eight percent of respondents to the survey said they collided with other cyclists and seven percent reported a collision with a pedestrian, says the study.
According to their findings, single-cyclist collisions were the least likely type of collision to be reported to the Gardaí. Cyclist collisions with vehicles are 20 times more likely to be reported.
“I suppose it makes sense that a cyclist who falls on their own wouldn’t feel the need to go and report it back to the Gardaí,” says Gildea. “But any injury on the road is important.”
The under-reporting of single-cyclist collisions means that the causes of these collisions can be overlooked by policymakers meaning that police-based statistics “on the burden of cyclist collisions in Ireland are biased towards those involving motorised vehicles”, the study says.
This is important because prevention strategies for a vehicle collision versus a single-cyclist collision are drastically different, says Gildea.
“For motorised vehicle collisions you’d try to reduce conflict at the intersections,” he says. “But for single cyclist collisions, the prevention strategies are almost exclusively infrastructural changes.”
Gaps in Data
“Although police data is the most complete source for road traffic collision data in Ireland, limited detail is available for analysis,” the study said.
The data available doesn’t include types of injuries, whether a helmet was worn, or whether bike lights were used, the study said.
Details on the Health Service Executive’s Hospital In-Patient Enquiry (HIPE) database for inpatients is also limited, said a spokesperson on the phone on Tuesday.
It records why people are in hospital, not what caused them to go to the hospital, the spokesperson said.
Cyclists brought to the emergency department but are not omitted to another ward are not recorded in HIPE, the spokesperson said. “It also doesn’t record the severity of the injury.”
Police, hospitals, and insurance companies should link their data on cyclist collisions, says the International Transport Forum, an OECD transport policy think-tank, the study says.
But this collaborative data approach is not done in Ireland, says Gildea.
“If we were to do that in Ireland it would be effective for monitoring serious injury collisions but it wouldn’t effectively capture minor injury collisions,” Gildea says.
In Sweden, they have a collaborative approach to data, Gildea says.
“In their hospitals, they have some mechanism so that after you attend an acute care facility after being involved in a collision, there’s paperwork involved that captures some collision data,” he says.
This information is linked with police data, Gildea says.
Combining hospital and Gardaí data is under consideration by the Road Safety Authority, a spokesperson said in an email on Monday.
“But the feasibility of linking databases, in terms of data protection, would need to be assessed in the first instance,” they said.