The Boulder Cycling Club is seeking to minimize accidents on its rides and help members develop safe riding habits.  Concern about safety is the number two reason people give for not cycling.  In addition, injuries are the number one reason people leave all sports.  Therefore, accident prevention is essential for encouraging people to bike and to help them make it a life-long recreation and means of transportation.

Unintentional injury is responsible for more years of potential life lost before the age of 65 than cancer and heart disease combined. Many unsafe behaviors are often performed intentionally. Recent studies indicate that education and training programs have little, if any, effect on these behaviors. While education is likely to increase knowledge, the expanded knowledge rarely results in behavior change.

Millions of dollars every year are spent on safety efforts. This includes safety equipment, safety engineering, personal protective equipment, and safety training. Although these are all vital and essential elements in the comprehensive safety environment, each one alone or all collectively are not getting the job done. While these efforts focus on preventing and eliminating accidents and injuries by providing a safe environment, they fall short in addressing the behaviors that cause the accidents. A high percentage of accidents and injuries are a direct result of carelessness or conscious disregard of safety efforts. These accidents are preventable. They don’t have to happen.

Developing a Safety Culture

So what is the solution? Safer infrastructure? Improved training? More regulation? The solution is to create a safety culture that focuses on the behaviors and attitudes of cyclists. A safety culture is not a program, but a process – a process that has many components, takes time, and requires a collective effort. It is a culture that encourages, motivates, reinforces, and recognizes safe behavior.

When this culture exists, negative, risky behavior will be minimized, resulting in fewer accidents. For example, in Europe there is more of a safety culture in motorist/cyclist interactions.  Drivers are much more considerate of cyclists because a far higher percentage of the population cycles, giving them more empathy for cyclists.

Safety Self-Management

How is a safety culture established? What motivates someone to choose the “safe way” to perform a task?  According to safety research, the key factor is whether a person has decided to “take personal responsibility for doing the right things to prevent injury.” This is called the safety self-management (SSM) approach. An SSM process is self-directed and motivates safe behavior through the selection of individual safety-related goals.

Specific, difficult goals lead to higher performance than vague, “do your best” goals.  Goals affect performance through four mechanisms, including: a) energizing people to commit resources to achieving the goal; b) motivating people to persist over time to achieve the goal; c) focusing attention on the task at hand; and d) developing appropriate task strategies. The SMS approach requires participants to set a personal goal for improvement on their targeted safety behavior.  Objective behavioral observations enable accurate feedback about an individual’s deviance from acceptable performance.

How the BCC Implements These Principles

The BCC has incorporated these concepts into its riding safety program as follows:

1.  Energizing people to commit resources to achieving the goal. The BCC Ride Leaders trained in safe riding energize the group to commit to safety goals.  The social nature of the Club also motivates people to be safe and courteous since they are riding with friends and acquaintances.  Our pre-ride announcements set a goal of zero accidents and charge each individual with responsibility for their own safety.

2. Motivating people to persist over time to achieve the goal.  The BCC provides regularly scheduled safe group rides with pre-ride safety announcements for ongoing safety education.  The Ride SMART safety acronym is reviewed every time.

3. Focusing attention on the task at hand. The ongoing, short pre-ride safety reviews help our members to persist over time in achieving the goal of becoming a safe rider.  They continually focus members on the issue of safety immediately before rides.  The presence of Ride Leaders on the rides also serves as a continual reminder of safety goals.

4. Developing appropriate task strategies. The pre-ride safety review discusses application of the safety rules to specific hazards and road safety challenges on each route.  Safety strategies that are appropriate for each route and the weather conditions are also discussed.  Ride Leaders answer questions about the application of  safety practices in real life riding situations.

5.  Participants must set a personal goal for improvement on their targeted safety behavior. Riders are asked to think about mistakes they have been making and focus on improving those on each ride.  Our safety rules set what some consider difficult, yet attainable, goals for cyclists.  For example, we require compliance with all traffic stops by touching down at least one foot, and we require cyclists to maintain a safe following distance that precludes the common, but extremely dangerous practice of drafting other cyclists (following within three feet).

6.  Objective behavioral observations enable the delivery of feedback that is accurate. Ride Leaders are invaluable for this. They provide gentle reminders of the rules when they see a rider making a mistake.  Ride Organizers highlight any mistakes noted on previous rides in pre-ride safety reviews.

The BCC Safety Committee will continue to develop cycling safety education programs for its members and the community based on proven effective behavior change methods applied to safety.  We hope to contribute to the continuing development of a cycling safety culture in Boulder that has been fostered by alternative transportation arms of local governments and cycling advocacy groups.