In a study that at first glance seems counterintuitive, researchers at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, reviewed safety studies from 17 countries and 68 cities in California and found that the more people bike in a community, the less they collide with motorists.

"It appears that motorists adjust their behavior in the presence of increasing numbers of people bicycling because they expect or experience more people cycling," said Julie Hatfield, an injury expert from the university.

With fewer accidents, people perceive cycling as safer, so more people cycle, thus making it even safer, she said.

"Rising cycling rates mean motorists are more likely to be cyclists, and therefore be more conscious of, and sympathetic towards, cyclists," she said.

Safety experts said the decrease in accidents that comes with an increase in cycling is independent of improvements in cycling-friendly laws and better infrastructure such as bike paths. The safety studies reviewed were from Australia, Denmark, the Netherlands, 14 other European countries, and 68 cities in California.

Although the review focused on bicycling, it appears that the more is safer rule also applies to pedestrians, Hatfield said.

This article was provided by Inside Science News Service, which is supported by the American Institute of Physics.