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New study suggests high injury rate in food delivery cyclists is under-reported

Macquarie University research indicates the rider injuries are greatly under-reported in Australia

A new study conducted by Macquarie University in Australia indicates that food delivery cyclists could be injured in much higher numbers than official reports show. 

The study used hospital records to try to uncover the real extent of delivery-related cycling injuries in gig economy workers and concluded that official data is substantially lower than the real number of cycling-related injuries amongst them. 

Whereas a government agency Safe Work NSW reported 37 pedal cycling injuries associated with commercial delivery in 2019-2020, in a pilot study in just one Sydney hospital emergency the researchers recorded at least 43 cycling-related injuries.

“Safe Work NSW uses police and workers’ compensation records to identify injuries to food delivery riders, but our research shows that this data is substantially lower than the real number of cycling-related injuries,” says Dr Mitchell Sarkies, a Research Fellow at the Australian Institute of Health Innovation at Macquarie University and lead author of the study.

The researchers analysed medical records for all 386 adults treated for cycling-related injuries at St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney emergency department (ED) between May 2019 and April 2020, comparing commercial versus non-commercial cyclists.

“For 172 of these records, 46 per cent, we couldn’t confirm their work status; but of the remaining records, we were able to identify 43 (12 per cent) commercial delivery cyclists and 153 (42 per cent) non-commercial cyclists,” says Dr Sarkies.

Risk groups

The study also looked into determining which key demographic, incident and injury characteristics were associated with commercial versus non-commercial cycling injuries in emergencies. Most injured cyclists (commercial and non-commercial) were male, with delivery cyclists more likely to be younger, and 11 times more likely to have a primary language other than English.

The report examined the compensation entitlements following the deaths of five food delivery cyclists on Australian roads in October and November 2020, four of these in Sydney.

“The cyclist who delivers our Friday night takeaway receives next to none of the conditions long considered fair and decent across Australia,” wrote the Committee Chair Daniel Mookhey in the report’s foreword.

Because of the pay-per-delivery structure, riders could take risks to increase their delivery rate and thereby improve their income.

“We know from other road safety research that you’re more likely to make mistakes when you’re under pressure,” says Dr Sarkies.

He said that commercial cyclists were 13 times more likely than non-commercial cyclists to present to the ED between 8 pm and midnight than in the early hours of the morning, suggesting these injuries occurred during the busiest evening meal delivery times.

“We noticed anecdotally in several cases, workers were injured, perhaps from crashing or coming off their bike, but they kept delivering to the end of their shift before going to the ED and discovering they had a concussion or fracture,” says Dr Sarkies.

It is likely that there are similar numbers of cyclist injuries presenting across other major Sydney hospitals, so further research is needed to confirm the real extent of injury to delivery cyclists."

Suvi joined F-At in 2022, first writing for She's since joined the tech hub, and contributes to all of the sites covering tech news, features, reviews and women's cycling content. Lover of long-distance cycling, Suvi is easily convinced to join any rides and events that cover over 100km, and ideally, plenty of cake and coffee stops. 

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Owd Big 'Ead | 2 years ago

I ride for Deliveroo and Stuart as an incentive to get out and ride when I don't really want to in the winter months just to keep the legs ticking over. Might as well be paid while practicing my traffic light sprints around my local city centre.

if you know your way around the locale it's a great way of earning a second income without a great deal of effort, as long as you have the fitness in place. I can quite easily earn £100 for 5 hours work each Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening.

However, the majority of my compatriots aren't fit and rely totally on their phone to get them from A - B. I think Deliveroo have Amazons software built into their route planning which is optimised for van work and is probably why stories of couriers riding down the hard shoulder of motorways crops up every now and then. 

If you are constantly looking at a phone while plotting your course it stands to reason that cycling accidents are going to be higher. When I first couriered back in the late 90's we still relied upon the city based A to Z paper maps. You soon learnt your way around without the need for digital solutions.

Quite frankly, it's a bloody awful job to do without years of experience. The working practices set by the "employer" are very one sided, as others have already said your only reward is from doing as many drops as possible in your allocated time slot, so this emphasises the need to flout the rules of the road to optimise delivery times.

Even then Deliveroo, as an example, have still failed to make a profit after 8 years in business despite 8 seperate rounds of inward investment and an IPO. It's a solution to a problem that nobody really had, but if they are willing to let me make a "relatively" quick buck out of it, so what?

Sriracha | 2 years ago

He said that commercial cyclists were 13 times more likely than non-commercial cyclists to present to the ED between 8 pm and midnight than in the early hours of the morning, suggesting these injuries occurred during the busiest evening meal delivery times.

I'm struggling to understand what is being compared. Too many "thans".

Secret_squirrel | 2 years ago

If feel sorry for delivery riders caught in the crushing maw of the gig economy - the companies should be forced to provide some kind of insurance for their riders and be held liable if a derestricted eBike is used. 

Interesting though the stats are they would be more useful with some distance and time based metrics to show whether delivery riders are more at risk on a per mile or per hour basis.  
I suspect they are simply because they are cycling in some of the densest traffic areas and times but it would be good to know and to use as a lever on these VC funded exploitative delivery companies.  

All of these companies existances are rather like Uber - based on using their VC funds to exploit loopholes in Employment and Road laws and as such their business models are probably unsustainable when/if those loopholes are closed. 

Aussie Rider | 2 years ago
1 like

Although this report seems to be based in Sydney, I used to live in Melbourne where there are also a lot of delivery riders particularly in the CBD.

When walking around the Melbourne CBD I note delivery riders:

Either don't know or don't the follow road rules (I guess that most are foreign students)

Ride on footpaths (which is illegal here)

On their phones while riding (illegal)

Don't ride 'defensively' in traffic 

Don't wear there Helmets correctly by having them sitting on the back of their head or strap not fastened. (Yes they're law here, let's not go there)

Only wear sandles or thongs (flip flops) or other inappropriate footwear

I also doubt that the ebikes they ride are legal as a lot don't pedal & just use the electric motor, my understanding is that in Australia e bikes can only be assisting while pedaling 

RoubaixCube replied to Aussie Rider | 2 years ago

I live in london where i pretty much witness the same thing on a daily basis... quite a few of them ride de-restricted electric bikes that go well beyond 20-25mph and they are all over the pavement, the roads and through red lights like absolute pilocks.

Probably 99% of them dont have any form of insurance either so thats another reason why they possibly dont report incidents... There are a few insurance companies out there that will insure food delivery cyclists although i am unaware if any of the companies themselves as employers offer employee insurance. In any case, Insurance isnt required for the job  although it probably should be since youre out on the road a lot like employees doing deliveries on mopeds.

They should have some form of insurance for the work they do.

Obviously the cyclists side is only one side of the story, Lots of drivers drive like utter twats as well (and also without insurance) so it would be unfair not to call them out. So while im not trying to victim blame, they sure dont set any good examples either.

AidanR replied to RoubaixCube | 2 years ago
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Agreed. The standard of riding is often appalling, and the home-brewed e-bikes go at speeds which both increase the likelihood and severity of crashes. They conform to every stereotype thrown at cyclist, and help to perpetuate them. Perhaps some of this is down to the pressures and incentives of the gig economy, and I don't doubt that better infrastructure would help reduce injury rates. But I fear that if mandatory registration of bikes ever becomes a reality, it will be because of these riders and their illegal bikes.

Mungecrundle replied to AidanR | 2 years ago

Not to condone the recklessly ridden e-motor bikes masquerading as assisted cycles or the frankly alarming riding styles, but the root problem is delivery companies setting their service standards by speed of delivery and rewarding delivery personnel by their rate of work.

My guess, and I appreciate that this will affect a vital source of income for those affected, is that delivery riders will be increasingly replaced by autonomous drones of various trundling and flying types and we'll have a whole bunch of different concerns.

AidanR replied to Mungecrundle | 2 years ago
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It would be interesting to compare the accident rates of delivery riders on bicycles and mopeds/(normal) scooters. They have the same incentives, and although the scooter riders aren't saints, the standard of riding is generally much higher than the cyclists. I suspect that the difference is down to training and accountability (i.e. registration plates).

AlsoSomniloquism replied to AidanR | 2 years ago

I've seen the motor scooter riders cut through pedestranised areas to skip going around it legally. I've also seen Uber drivers take a left turn into a road that has been closed off for left turns and made exit only and seen delivery vans of multiple companies, branded and unbranded drive over pavements, left hook or pull out on me from side roads or suddenly stop and swing around with no indication. 

The incentives are the same which is money is only made if you do the job quickly and most of the people are just treated like shit by the Gig service they are "working" for. Vehicle type doesn't seem to matter at all. 

AidanR replied to AlsoSomniloquism | 2 years ago
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I agree that the scooter riders are no paragons of virtue. I've had one threaten to assault me when I tried to stop them riding through a pedestrianised area. As Owd Big 'Ead points out above, riders are often looking at their phones as they ride as they are relying on GPS, and that applies to scooter riders as well as e-bike riders. But taking all of that into account, the average standard of e-bike riders is worse in my experience.

Chris Hayes replied to RoubaixCube | 2 years ago

Couldn't agree more: as a daily London cyclist and an occasional driver, delivery riders are a danger to themselves and other road users.  There's been a sharp and continued uptick in cyclists injured and killed in traffic accidents since 2016, which coincides with the rise of the likes of Deliveroo. The Australian survey shows delivery cyclists are 13x (!!!!!) more likely to be involved in an accident than leisure cyclists. Though I can't find any stats for the UK I'd be surprised if it was lower. 

The delivery companies themselves could do something here, checking the bikes to ensure that they haven't been tampered and ensuring that their riders CAN ACTUALLY RIDE A BIKE SAFELY and are both identifyable - and insured (as they are working).

It's more likely, however, that their employers are part of the problem, incentivising riders to deliver quickly, and increasing the risk of accident to their riders and potential customers - of which I am not one.

mctrials23 replied to Chris Hayes | 2 years ago
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Is that 13x more likely based on the same distances and similar area? I would wager that city riding is far more dangerous than country roads and that delivery drivers are doing far more miles than the average rider. Couple that with the awful and agressive driving I see in London whenever I end up there and I would find it hard to make any sense of how much of that 13x is on the riders and how much is on the situation they a riding in. 

The only way delivery companies could realistically make sure riders are behaving is to have their own ebike fleet with tracking. That way they could see where their riders are going, the speeds they are doing, when there is a crash and whether they are clearly riding like bellends. 

I'm not quite sure how these companies can deincentivise dangerous riding either. Its fundamentally a job that rewards speed of delivery and frequency of delivery. 

Sriracha replied to Aussie Rider | 2 years ago

Firstly, the study was about the under reporting of injuries, not how to place the blame.
Secondly, if it was about an exploited workforce with zero employment rights, would you take a different view?

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