Concerns over car exhaust inhalation and traffic accident risks may seem cause to avoid bicycling in urban areas. However, a recent study suggests that the benefits may outweigh those risks. The report was published ahead of print in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives (doi:10.1289/ehp.0901747).
Researchers quantified the potential impact on all-cause mortality of 500,000 Dutch people if they used a bicycle instead of a car for short trips. The investigators analyzed data on pollution inhalation and traffic accidents, as well as health benefits from improved physical activity. They determined that despite the dangers of cycling in urban areas, the health benefits were at least nine times greater than the hazards. They estimated that those who switched from driving a car to regularly riding a bicycle could gain 3–14 months of life. This was compared with 0.8–40 days lost due to pollution and 5–9 days lost from accidents. “On average, the estimated health benefits of cycling were substantially larger than the risks relative to car driving for individuals [making the shift from driving to cycling].”