Safety In Numbers

"It seems paradoxical but the more people ride bicycles on our city streets, the less likely they are to be injured in traffic accidents."   See : A Virtuous Cycle: Safety In Numbers For Bicycle Riders, Science Daily, Sept 2008

Cycling is safer in Australian states where more people cycle.  The graph below (from a peer-reviewed article published in the Health Promotion Journal of Australia) uses Australian data to illustrate the phenomenon.  There have been few comprehensive surveys of cycle use - the data shown below are for 1985-86 - but they clearly show that States with the highest cycle use have the lowest fatality rates per 100 km.
The article examined changes in injury rates and cycle use over time, concluding that, before the helmet law in WA, the increase in popularity of cycling was accompanied by a substantial decrease in injury rates per cyclist.

Conversely, the decrease in cycling caused by the introduction of helmet laws
(see graphs below of census data  on percentages cycling to work from 1976-2006) resulted in increased injury rates per cyclist - more information, including detailed statistics.  

As shown below - countries such as the Netherlands, Denmark and and Germany have much lower injury rates per 100 km cycled that Australia.  Evidence suggests that injury rates per cyclist increased after helmet laws were introduced, thanks to risk compensation and reduced safety in numbers.  One of the best ways to encourage cycling and at the same time make it safer would be to repeal Australian's counter-productive helmet law.

The picture below shows Amsterdam in the 1970s. It did not take long to create an environment where cycling could flourish and become much safer than in Australia. 

The most significant effect of helmet laws was to discourage cycling in regional cities where it was both safe, popular and increasing. Current levels of cycling to work in regional areas are less than half what they were before helmet laws.
Amsterdam in the 1970s
Cycling is safer in countries where more people cycle.  Just as Australian States with the most cycling are the safest, international comparisons show that countries with most cycling are also the safest,  See:  More and Safer Cycling (UK CTC - 2 meg powerpoint show, press Esc to exit)

Safe cycling: the safest country for cyclists is Holland.  Typical safe riding practices are shown in the pictures below and at the Amsterdam Bicycles website which shows 82 pictures of bicycles taken in a 73 minute period on 9/12/06 at one corner of Nieuw Markt (a nice open square in Amsterdam).

More pictures of Dutch cyclists - click to enlarge