A Toyota Hilux hit Carol Harwood at a Rotorua roundabout, but she doesn't remember it. The keen cyclist and triathlete was in an induced coma for two days after the crash. She was one of 998 cyclists treated by Midland trauma between 2012 and 2016, and 227 of these, just less than one quarter, were in the Lakes DHB. Their injuries have just been summarised and published in a newly released report by the Midlands trauma team. Reporter Samantha Olley talks to Harwood and others in the Rotorua cycling community to find out what they think of the report's findings and recommendations.
Nearly 1000 cyclists were hospitalised in the Lakes, Bay of Plenty, Waikato and Taranaki DHB areas in the span of four years, prompting recommendations to make cycling safer in New Zealand.
The number of cyclists hospitalised in the Lakes, Bay of Plenty, Waikato and Taranaki DHBs increased 16.8 per cent each year between 2012 and 2016, according to a study carried out by the Midland trauma team.
The findings were published in the latest New Zealand Medical Journal, released on Friday.
In them, it said the most common cause of death for cyclists hospitalised was blunt trauma that affected more than one system in the body.
The most severe injuries for cyclists were normally in the head, thorax, spine and abdomen/pelvis areas.
The report said safety measures for cyclists, such as separate lanes, widened roads, and lowered speeds, had not kept up with the growth of cycling in the central North Island.
It said cycling had been heavily promoted by all levels of government in New Zealand in the past 10 years, but thorough safety infrastructure and teaching of cycling skills and bike maintenance had been left behind.
"The resulting timing lag could contribute to an increasing number of injuries, adding to the trauma burden in the community and costs across the health system."
Rotorua woman Carol Harwood was hit about 6.30am at the roundabout intersection of State Highway 5 and State Highway 36 as she rode towards Ngongotahā in November 2013.
Her helmet saved her life, but she was left with severe head trauma, a broken cheekbone and eye socket and bone bruising in her wrist.
At the time, she told the Rotorua Daily Post she was "quite grateful that fractures can heal... The brain can mend itself but you don't know to what extent".
Five years on, she told the Rotorua Daily Post she agreed with the Midland trauma report's findings.
She believed the injury tallies would have been much higher if near misses and injuries that didn't require hospital treatment were included.
A large portion of patients included in the report suffered physical symptoms more than six months after their crash.
That was certainly the case for Harwood, who had to wait six months before she could return to full-time work.
"I had ongoing appointments - surgery on my wrist a year out, fatigue and tiredness for more than a year... Once the cuts and bruises healed, people thought I was fine, without knowing that the brain still had so much more recovery to do from bashing my head on the ground," she said.
"I had issues with grip strength and pain, I attended many hand therapy sessions, acupuncture, steroid injections but nothing worked. So after a year... the option was to operate to remove a bone. It's as good as it can get, not 100, but at least I can ride."
Harwood eventually got back on her bike and back into events, with small groups of friends and the local clubs.
She said it was important to widen roads, and add cycle lanes, but also to clear hazards such as rubbish, glass and gravel.
"They push cyclists to the right of the white line, in turn, frustrating drivers... Regardless of me being in my car or on my bike, the unnecessary rage towards cyclists is just horrid."
After the report's release, Dr Francois Coulombe, the head of Rotorua Hospital's emergency department, said ED doctors felt they were seeing more cycling related injuries.
She said their workload normally increased on weekends when there were more people out on their bikes, and the rising popularity of mountain biking in Rotorua was a contributing factor.
"On long weekends or during the school holidays, it gets even busier in ED as a lot of tourists from New Zealand or overseas are in town on a mountain biking holiday."
She said during the week of Crankworx in 2019, 40 patients presented to ED after a mountain biking injury, and "75 per cent were male, and 73 per cent were over 20".
"As a few had life-threatening injuries and a lot needed sedation for fracture reduction or other procedures, that definitely increased the workload significantly."
After Crankworx 2019, organiser Tak Mutu said his team had already begun reviewing the festival and improving all aspects.
"We'll just keep trying to minimise the injuries as much as possible."
Rotorua Cycling Club secretary Kevin Prosser said the report's conclusions did not come as a surprise.
"Certainly cycling has increased and outgrown the infrastructure, but that does take a long time to build."
He said cycleways were a good start but in his opinion, "it really comes down to driver awareness".
"There seems to be a disconnect between the perception of a cyclist, and an actual person. We are all brothers, sisters, dads, sons, daughters, wives.
"But at the same time, we've all been abused or had things thrown at us. I don't know if those attitudes will ever change."
He said the club had worked closely with Fonterra drivers, and regularly emailed them the planned routes for group rides.
Rotorua Cycle Action co-chairman David Crawley's views also mirrored the report.
"Cycling infrastructure development has been slow to keep up with the rising demand... There have been some good sections of cycleway built, but there are often weak points in-between that can put the less experienced riders at risk and discourage them from riding."
He said a growing number of people in Rotorua who wanted to bike for recreation or commuting were not that experienced.
"Many would hesitate to share roads with traffic going above about 30km/h, and would be much happier on separated cycleways."
Rotorua Lakes Council's safe and sustainable journeys manager Jodie Lawson said Rotorua had about 250km of urban roads and aimed for 30km of shared paths, which the council considered a worthwhile investment.
To date, more than 20km of new bike paths and shared paths had been completed.
"Our vision is a city where everyone can travel around freely and most importantly, safely."
She said the urban cycle programme, which was subsidised by the Government and the Transport Agency, had helped make significant changes to residential roads since 2015.
"As part of each new cycleway or shared path council uses pedestrian or courtesy crossings to improve safety at road crossings. Traffic calming measures like extending kerbs, refuge islands, signage, and road painting also help slow drivers."
Midland trauma cycling report facts
Males were more likely to have fatal injuries
Lake Taupō Cycle Challenge competitors said separated cycle paths were important and encouraging
While recreational cycling is increasing, cycling as a form of transport is decreasing
Recreational cyclists are more likely to use bikes for transport
Rotorua Lakes Council is involved with and helps promote
Share With Care pedestrian safety campaign
School-based travel planning
Walking school bus Hikoi to School events
Be Bright cycle safety campaign
Bikes in Schools giving equal opportunities to children to access riding a bike
Bike skills programme "With Us" in schools
Beginner riding classes for elderly, adults and electric bike users
Driver Directions youth driving event
Agewise and Driving On road safety education for senior drivers
Youth Road Safety Expo for Year 11 students
AIEP Alcohol Impairment Education programme
"Indicate" at roundabouts campaign (starting this month)
Driver fatigue and distraction campaigns
Back2School speed education
Puppet Vision – road safety, walking and cycling shows in schools and early childhood centres