To improve bicycle safety, crash reports need to capture more data

For immediate release, April 2, 2015

Boston, MA Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health researchers are calling upon police in all states to improve their reporting of crashes involving vehicles and bicycles, according to a new study. Currently, details on crashes are handwritten by police on paper and there are few bicycle-relevant codes. The researchers are calling for police to use electronic tablets that would include more options to gather bicycle-specific data, such as drawings of the scene and additional codes that could indicate, for example, if the bicyclist was riding inside a painted bike lane and ran into a driver’s open car door. This detailed information about each vehicle/bicycle crash could be automatically uploaded into spreadsheets for later analysis. Analysis, especially when combined with big data, could then guide the building of safer bicycle environments, encouraging more people to cycle, the authors said.

The study was published online April 2, 2015 in Injury Prevention.

“Self-driving cars have been invented and apps tell cyclists of approaching vehicles but the vehicle/bicycle crash details are still hand written and drawn on the police crash report template, making crash analysis labor-intensive. To equal other technological advancements and improve the safety of bicyclists, multiple bicycle-crash-scene codes should be created for immediate data entry,” said co-author Anne Lusk, research scientist in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard Chan.

The researcher’s proposal addresses the increase in the number of bicyclists on the road in the U.S. The number of commuters who bike to and from work has risen about 62% from 2000 to 2013. Studies have indicated that if safety of the bicycle environment improved, more individuals would be willing to bike.

Morteza Asgarzadeh, research fellow in the Department of Environmental Health, and Maryam Farvid, visiting scientist and Takemi Fellow, were co-authors.

Support for the study was provided by Nissan Motor Co., Ltd.

“Database improvements for motor vehicle/bicycle crash analysis,” Anne C Lusk, Morteza Asgarzadeh, Maryam S Farvid, Injury Prevention, online April 2, 2015. doi:10.1136/injuryprev-2014-041317

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Marge Dwyer



Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health brings together dedicated experts from many disciplines to educate new generations of global health leaders and produce powerful ideas that improve the lives and health of people everywhere. As a community of leading scientists, educators, and students, we work together to take innovative ideas from the laboratory to people’s lives—not only making scientific breakthroughs, but also working to change individual behaviors, public policies, and health care practices. Each year, more than 400 faculty members at Harvard Chan teach 1,000-plus full-time students from around the world and train thousands more through online and executive education courses. Founded in 1913 as the Harvard-MIT School of Health Officers, the School is recognized as America’s oldest professional training program in public health.