When it comes to Australian road safety, it is important to consider all road users, not just those travelling in a vehicle.

What is a vulnerable road user (VRU)?

Vulnerable road users are those who have little or no protection in the event of an accident on roads, footpaths, and driveways. This includes pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists, and riders of other motorised devices such as e-bikes and e-scooters.

People in wheelchairs, as well as frail, aged or disabled people relying on mobility devices, are generally classified as pedestrians and also considered vulnerable road users.

Why are they vulnerable?

These road users are considered vulnerable because – unlike drivers and passengers in enclosed vehicles – they have little or no protection when colliding with a vehicle, a tree, the road surface, or road furniture such as signposts and crash barriers.

Speed is a significant factor when it comes to the severity of accidents between vehicles and vulnerable road users. For example, there is a 10 per cent probability of a cyclist or pedestrian being killed if struck by a vehicle travelling at 30 km/h, but this rises to more than 90 per cent at 50 km/h, according to Australian research (see Proposed vehicle impact speed – severe injury probability relationships for selected crash types in injury for cyclists of all ages).

Motorcycle riders, pedestrians and cyclists accounted for a third of Australia’s road toll in 2020. When it comes to serious injuries, that rises to almost half of all incidents.

For Australian motorcycle riders, annual fatality rates per billion vehicle kilometres travelled are, on average, nearly 30 times higher than for vehicle occupants. In 2020, half of motorcycle deaths occurred in 100 and 110 km/h zones.

Primarily pedestrian Australian fatalities involve a collision with a light vehicle, with children and the elderly particularly vulnerable to injury or death in a crash. The majority of pedestrian deaths occurred in 50‑60 km/h zones in 2020, while a quarter of deaths were at intersections.

Similarly, half of Australian cyclist deaths occurred in 50-60 km/h zones and 56 per cent occurred at intersections. Around a quarter were on higher speed roads, of 90 km/h and above, while a quarter involved a heavy vehicle.

What can be done to protect vulnerable road users?

Changing road conditions is one key way to protect vulnerable road users. Reducing speed limits, particularly around schools and hospitals, can reduce both the number and severity of incidents involving pedestrians and other vulnerable road users.

Initiatives such as creating separate lanes can reduce the risk to cyclists, while efforts to reduce or redesign road furniture can reduce the risk to motorcyclists.

Awareness campaigns also have a major role to play in protecting vulnerable road users. This extends from encouraging riders to wear helmets, through to encouraging all road users to respect speed limits and obey the law, as well as be more aware of and considerate of other road users.

Smart bike lights, data, and improved cyclist safety

This short video is about the Light Insight Trial, a project iMOVE ran with the Transport Accident Commission (TAC) and Deakin University. The impetus for the project was a “… strong and immediate need to investigate innovative methods to ensure the safety of vulnerable road users, particularly cyclists.” The innovation in this case was a smart bike light, and the collection, analysis, and visualisation of the data collected by the bike light.

Read more about the project, its findings and recommendations, at Smart bike lights, data, and improved cyclist safety.

Vulnerable road users careers

If you’re interested in pursuing a career in this area of transport, our interview series Meet Smart Mobility Experts could help guide you.

In this series we interview a number of researchers, practitioners, department of transport executives and more. Amongst other things we cover their academic background, research activity, career progression, and more.

Amy Child and cycling infrastructure

The reality is, there’s just not enough space to accommodate every single user. We need to begin to think more holistically about those users. With cycling for example, some people want to cycle through the city relatively fast because it’s more of a commuter route, whereas some people are coming to the city as a destination.

Same thing with pedestrians. You’ve got people that meander through the city and those that are moving through the city quickly.

It’s asking questions about the different roles streets play. What are their movement functions?

Amy Child – Transport and Urban Planner

Vulnerable Road Users resources

Here’s a selection of Australian strategy and project documents on the topic of vulnerable road users.

Vulnerable road users: Facts and figures


  • Of the 1,106 people killed in road crashes in 2020, 138 were pedestrians (12%), 190 were motorcycle riders (17%) and 42 were cyclists (4%).
  • Motorcyclists – annual fatality rates per billion vehicle kilometres travelled are, on average, nearly 30 times higher for motorcycle riders than for vehicle occupants. Motorcycle riders make up only 5.7 per cent of registered passenger vehicles.
  • Pedestrians travel low distances in kilometres relative to other road users, yet comprise 13 per cent of all road fatalities in Australia.
  • The majority of all deaths of pedestrians occur in 50‑60 km/h zones.4 27 per cent of deaths in 2020 were at intersections.
  • Fifty per cent cyclist deaths occur in 50-60 km/h zones and 56 per cent occurred at intersections. 27 per cent were on higher speed roads (90 km/h and above), and 28 per cent involved a heavy vehicle.
  • There has been no reduction in the period 2010—2020 for fatalities of cyclists.
  • Pedestrian fatalities over the last 10 years have shown little progress in reduction. A drop in the years 2020—2022 may be attributable to COVID lockdowns.

Source: National Road Safety Strategy’s Fact sheet: Vulnerable road users

Motorcycle safety

  • Compared to similar OECD countries for 2015, Australian motorcyclist fatalities as a proportion of total road crash fatalities (16.7%), are higher than Canada and the USA, but are lower than the UK, Germany and France, and are slightly lower than the OECD average (17.3%)
  • Risk-taking has been identified as a contributing factor in approximately 50% of fatal motorcycle crashes and approximately 28% of non-fatal motorcycle crashes.

Source: CARRS-Q, Motorcycle Safety, Fact Sheet 2020

Pedestrian safety

  • In every year between 2008 and 2014, the pedestrian fatality rate for males was more than twice the rate for females.
  • People aged 75 and older had the highest pedestrian fatality rate of any age group (2.31 per 100,000 people)5. People aged 0-16 years had the lowest rate (0.34 per 100,000 people).
  • a car travelling at 50km/h will typically require 36 metres to stop, while a car travelling at 40km/h will stop in 27 metres.
  • The default speed limit in urban built-up areas was reduced from 60km/h to 50km/h in the late 1990s. The new 50km/h default speed limit was linked to a 15% decrease in casualty crashes. Safety outcomes in higher-risk pedestrian and school areas were improved through the introduction of 40km/h and lower limits.
  • Recent research in Queensland suggested that approximately 20% of pedestrians are likely to cross the road while distracted (with a hand-held device), with 18-30 year olds being significantly more likely to experience high levels of distraction while crossing
  • Distracted walking is most common for pedestrians under 31 years of age

Source: CARRS-Q, Pedestrian Safety, Fact Sheet 2020

e-Scooter safety

  • e-Scooter use can result in injuries to both riders and pedestrians – from collisions or falling over e-scooters parked on the footpath. Concerns about e-scooters blocking footpaths have been widespread, particularly among disability groups.
  • Most e-scooter rider injuries result from falls, not collisions with motor vehicles, evenin countries where most riding is on roads.
  • Ambulance and emergency department data from Brisbane in early 20195 showed that most injured riders were aged 20-34 years old and the numbers of males and females were similar. A comparison with the CARRS-Q study of the number of riders in the Brisbane CBD led the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons to conclude that e-scooter riders were twice as likely to be injured as bicycle riders.

Source: CARRS-Q, e-Scooter Safety, Fact Sheet 2020

Cycling safety

  • Cycling fatalities and injuries are counted as road crashes if they occur on roads and footpaths, but not if they occur off‑road (i.e. on bikeways, in parks and when mountain biking). Across Australia, about 40% of cyclist hospitalisations result from off-road incidents.
  • Many road crashes involving cyclists are not reported to police, particularly those that do not involve a motor vehicle. In 2013, across Australia, cyclists made up 4.4% of all police-reported traffic injuries but about 15% of hospital-reported traffic injuries.
  • Australia was the first country to introduce compulsory bicycle helmet legislation in 1991. The Cochrane review of bicycle helmet effectiveness found that helmets provide a 63-88% reduction in the risk of head, brain and severe brain injury for cyclists of all ages.

Source: CARRS-Q, Bicycle Safety, Fact Sheet 2020

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What is iMOVE doing in the area of vulnerable road users?

iMOVE is working with La Trobe University and Victoria’s Transport Accident Commission (TAC) to investigate new technologies to engage the community and improve road safety. It is also set to investigate the use of Co-operative Intelligent Transport Systems (C-ITS) technologies to improve safety for motorcycle riders, in conjunction with La Trobe University, the TAC and the Department of Transport and Main Roads (Queensland).

iMOVE undertook a road empathy project with Swinburne University of Technology, to understand and evaluate campaigns for behaviour change in young drivers and vulnerable road users. It is also investigating interactions between pedestrians, cyclists and autonomous vehicles, with the University of Queensland, in preparation for the introduction of autonomous vehicles to Australia.

What impact iMOVE is having in the area of vulnerable road users?

iMOVE’s mission is to advance the development and adoption of technologies that improve Australia’s transport systems, through high impact R&D collaborations. Vulnerable road users is a prime candidate for this approach, to improve the safety of VRUs, ultimately leading to the saving of lives and reduction of injuries and trauma.

To date we are running almost 50 projects addressing vulnerable road users, in areas such as:

  • Pedestrian and vehicle interactions at intersections in urban environments
  • VRU and vehicle interactions on footpaths and driveways
  • Car and truck interactions with bicycles/motorcycles
  • Heavy vehicle (e.g. freight, construction, buses) and pedestrian/cyclist interactions at destination start/end points (e.g. construction sites, pick up and drop off points)

For a look at all of the VRU work we’re doing click through to the project lists below.

The R&D work of iMOVE and its partners is taking place across Australia. Some work is specifically State- or city-based, other work has a national focus. It’s investigating issues and opportunities on Australian roads, rail, sea, and air.

Additionally, we’re readying Australia’s next generations of experts and practitioners to help make Australian roads safer for vulnerable road users via our Undergraduate Student Industry and Industry PhD programs.

Contact iMOVE

There’s still a lot of work to be done to make Australian transport systems safer. If you’d like to talk to us about any R&D work in the area of vulnerable road users please get in touch with us to start a discussion.

iMOVE vulnerable road users projects

iMOVE, along with its partners, is active in carrying out R&D to make Australians transport and mobility safer.

Please find below the three latest vulnerable road users projects. Or click to view all iMOVE’s vulnerable road users projects.


iMOVE vulnerable road users PhD projects

In addition to iMOVE and its partners’ vulnerable road users projects listed above, as part of our Industry PhD Program businesses, universities and PhD students work on an agreed topic over a three-year period.

These are the three most recent PhD projects that have been undertaken on the topic of vulnerable road users. Click to view all iMOVE’s vulnerable road users PhD projects.


iMOVE vulnerable road users articles

In addition to projects, iMOVE also publishes articles, thoughtpieces, case studies, etc. that cover the many issues and solutions around vulnerable road users.

Below are the three most recent articles. Or click to view all iMOVE’s vulnerable road users articles.