Fact sheet: Vulnerable road users

Of the 1,195 people killed in road crashes in 2019, 160 were pedestrians (13%), 211 were motorbike riders (18%) and 39 were bike riders (3%).

Who are vulnerable road users?

The speed a vehicle is travelling at is a major factor in the seriousness of a crash involving pedestrians and bike riders. It is estimated there is a 10% probability of being killed if struck at 30 km/h, but this rises to over 90% at 50km/h.
Jurewicz, Sobhani et al (2015) and based on Wramborg (2005)

Vulnerable road users (VRU) are road users not in a car, bus or truck, generally considered to include pedestrians, bike riders and motorbike riders. In the event of a crash, VRUs have little to no protection from crash forces.

Other personal mobility devices including e-scooters and e-bikes are becoming increasingly popular, coupled with motorised mobility devices to support persons with a disability and the frail or aged. Users of all of these devices are included in the VRU category and for the most part, people using wheelchairs, motorised wheelchairs and motorised mobility devices are classified as pedestrians. As data collection for personal mobility devices improves, greater insights into causality and the impact of these devices will be learned and support the design of the most effective interventions.

Fatalities (2019) and serious injury (2017) by road user type1
  Pedestrians Motorbike riders Bike riders All road users
Fatalities (2019) 160 (13.4%) 211 (17.7%) 39 (3.3%) 1195
Serious injuries (2017) 2711 (6. 9%) 8733 (22.2%) 7077 (18.0%) 39330

Note: All road users includes VRUs plus vehicle occupants (drivers and passengers)

Note: Serious injury data lags in timing with 2017 data the most up to date on national hospitalisations

Over the past decade serious injuries have increased for motorbike riders and bike riders relative to pedestrians and all road users, as new cars have become safer with greater occupant protections. The increase in the number of serious injuries, may be due in part to more people taking up bike riding for a range of health, mobility and leisure reasons.

Change in fatalities and serious injury by road user type: baseline 2008-10 to 12 months to September 2020 for fatalities, and 2017 for serious injuries2
  Pedestrians Motorbike riders Bike riders All road users
Fatalities (2020) -23.8 -20.3 +45.4 -22.4
Serious injury (2017) -2.5% +12.0% +36.2% +18.0%

Motorbike riders

Motorbike riders are over-represented in fatal and serious injury figures, disproportionate to the number of registered motorbikes. Annual fatality rates per billion vehicle kilometres travelled are, on average, nearly 30 times higher for motorbike riders than for vehicle occupants. Motorbike riders make up only 5.7% of registered passenger vehicles.3

In 2018, 191 motorbike riders (including pillion passengers) were killed. Of these 98 (51%) died in single vehicle crashes.4  

In 2018, 122 deaths of motor bike riders (64%) occurred in speed zones greater than 60 km/h, and 65 of those deaths (34%) occurred in 100 and 110 km/h zones.

Pedestrians

pedestrian deaths (2018)We are all pedestrians and most of us engage in pedestrian activity at some point during each journey. Pedestrians have limited protection (unlike bike and motorbike riders, they do not wear safety equipment) and are the most vulnerable road users.

Pedestrians travel low distances in kilometres relative to other road users, yet comprise 13% of all road fatalities in Australia. The majority of pedestrian fatalities involve a collision with a light vehicle. Children and the elderly are particularly vulnerable to injury or death in a crash.

Pedestrian fatalities over the last ten years have shown little progress in downward trends. The recent drop year to date needs more investigation as it may be more attributable to the impact of COVID-19 and reduced travel exposure for a large part of the reporting period.

The majority of all deaths of pedestrians occur in 50–60km/h zones4. Almost one-third (31%) of deaths in 2018 were at intersections.

Bike riders (pedal cycles)

Just under half of bike rider deaths occur in 50-60 km/h zones and 43% occurred at intersections. Around one-third (34%) were on higher speed roads (90 km/h and above), and around one-third (34%) involved a heavy vehicle.

Over the last decade, fatalities of bike riders have increased by around 45%.

There are fewer deaths of bike riders and pedestrians in 40 km/h and lower zones.

1 BITRE, Road trauma Australia, 2019 Statistical Summary, Table 1.2; BITRE Hospitalised Injury Statistical Report, September 2020 (with data sourced from Flinders University and AIHW).

2 BITRE: Australian Road Deaths Database; Hospitalised Injury, Statistical Report, September 2020 (data sourced from Flinders University under an agreement with AIHW).

3 CARRS-Q, Motorcycle Safety, Fact Sheet 2020

4 BITRE, Australian Road Deaths Database