Bicycle accidents - do we only see the tip of the iceberg? A prospective multi-centre study in a large German city combining medical and police data

Injury. 2012 Dec;43(12):2026-34. doi: 10.1016/j.injury.2011.10.016. Epub 2011 Nov 20.


Introduction: Bicycles are becoming increasingly popular. In Münster, a German town with a population of 273,000, bicycles were the main method of transportation in 2009, used more often (37.8%) than cars (36.4%). Each day in Münster, bicycles are used around 450,000 times. In 1982, they were only used around 270,000 times a day. However, the increased use of bicycles has also led to an increased number of bicycle accidents.

Methods: Between February 2009 and January 2010, data on bicycle-accidents leading to injuries were collected by the Police of Münster and in all emergency units of the six hospitals in Münster. A systematic acquisition of technical data from the police and the medical data from the hospitals were combined anonymously. None of the forms contained personal data of patients involved, except for patient age and sex as well as time and place of bicycle accidents to match the questionnaires. The data were entered into a central database (MS Access for input/MySQL for data retrieval).

Results: 2250 patients were included in this study. For each of these patients either a patient record or a hospital record or a police record or a combination of any of these different records existed in our database. In total, 1767 patients received medical treatment at a hospital and 484 people included in the study did not go to a hospital. Three fatalities occurred as a result of bicycle accidents. Considering reasons for hospital admission, traumatic brain injuries were the leading cause (25.7%). However, the largest resource consumption was attributed to fractures of the upper extremities (36.8%) and lower extremities (29.9%) with major surgery.

Discussion: Bicycle accidents occur more frequently than indicated by police records. The results of the Münster Bicycle Study have shown that the actual number of bicycle accidents exceeds the officially reported number by nearly two times. Since bicycle helmets cannot prevent accidents it is recommended not only to focus on helmet use as the only injury prevention method. Other factors, such as weather, pavement and default of traffic, roadworthiness of the bicycles or alcohol/drug abuse also affect the accident rates.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Traffic / prevention & control
  • Accidents, Traffic / statistics & numerical data*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Bicycling*
  • Child
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / epidemiology*
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / etiology
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / prevention & control
  • Female
  • Fractures, Bone / epidemiology*
  • Fractures, Bone / etiology
  • Fractures, Bone / prevention & control
  • Germany / epidemiology
  • Head Protective Devices / statistics & numerical data*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Hospitalization / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medical Record Linkage
  • Police / statistics & numerical data*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Sex Distribution
  • Urban Population / statistics & numerical data*
  • Young Adult