But bike advocates can take no joy in these figures. The number of bike riders killed in traffic actually rose to 716 deaths. That's a 2.1% increase, or 15 more fatalities than in 2007.
The increase in the number of bicyclists injured in 2008 is even more startling. The number rose from 43,000 bicyclists injured in 2007 to 52,000 in 2008. That's a 21% increase. Injuries in all other vehicle category dropped in 2008.
The figures were compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and included in the report: Traffic Safety Facts.
Fatalities also rose for motorcyclists, that other vulnerable group of road users. The number of motorcyclist deaths from 2007 to 2008 increased 2.2% to 5,290.
The bicycling fatality upward trend in 2008 doesn't look so bleak when compared with previous years.
The Traffic Safety Facts report for 2008 didn't include any data regarding bicyclists for years previous to 2007, but I found a two-year-old report dealing specifically with bicyclists that shows many years were more deadly. Here's the past decade:
2008 — 716
2007 — 701
2006 — 773
2005 — 786
2004 — 727
2003 — 629
2002 — 665
2001 — 732
2000 — 693
1999 — 754
You'll remember that 2008 was the year that gasoline prices skyrocketed. The media reported many cases of people leaving their cars in the driveway in favor of commuting and running errands by bicycle.
Perhaps the simple fact that there were more people riding bicycles last year translates into the higher number of bicycle fatalities. But it doesn't lessen the impact of these tragedies. It emphasizes the fact that more needs to be done to make the roads safer for everyone.
In releasing the report, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said:
“While the number of highway deaths in America has decreased, we still have a long way to go.”
Amen to that. Two percent of 2008 traffic fatalities involved bicyclists. I'd put more bike lanes, better road design, more focus on bicycle education and law enforcement on the short list.
Photo above from velo city at flickr.com