Bicycle injuries and fatalities cost more than $5 billion a year

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Leave it to the Centers for Disease Control to boil down the human toll of highway carnage into cold, hard cash.

A report issued by the agency this month finds that the costs of medical care and lost productivity related to deaths and injuries in crashes surpasses $99 billion a year. Bicyclists' share of that is about $5.4 billion annually.

The study, entitled “Traffic Injury Prevention,” reports that the U.S. is falling behind the traffic safety gains being made in many other developed nations.

It concludes that there are some strategies that could save lives and prevent injuries. One of those is mandatory bicycle helmet use. That's definitely a hot-button issue among bicyclists, although the CDC authors focus their discussion on bicycle helmet use among children.

Bicycling injury stats

Overall, the study reports the costs of medical care and lost productivity among those killed or injured in motor vehicles, as well as those on motorcycles, bicycles and on foot.

Based on data gathered in 2005, the report found that bicyclists accounted for 2% of the 45,030 deaths (1,006), 9% of the non-fatal hospital stays (22,904) and 13% of the emergency room visits (451,451).

While bicyclists comprised 13% of the fatal and non-fatal injuries, they accounted for only 6% of the costs. In every injury category case, men led women by at least 2 to 1.

High rate of injuries

Interestingly, the report finds that children accounted for 53% of all bicycling injuries, with 96% treated and released from emergency rooms. Although their injuries were not life-threatening for the most part, they accounted for $2 billion in medical and lost productivity costs — nearly 40% of the bicyclists' totals.

The authors say that many of the bicycling injuries children suffer “might be” prevented with helmet use.

Preventing injury

They cite a 1995 CDC study that estimates head injuries account for more then 62% of bicyclist deaths, more than 67% of their hospital admissions and about 33% of their [emergency room] visits. However, only about 48% of children always wear a helmet.

“These estimates suggest an excellent opportunity for injury and cost reduction. … If even a quartert of children pedalcyclist injuries and death could be prevented by increased use of effective policy and evidence-based programs, more than $500 million in medical costs and lost productivity could be saved.”

Checking over at the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute, I found that bicycle helmet use for children is mandatory statewide in 21 states, while many jurisdictions in other states require helmet use among children.

Gains from seatbelts; better walking environments

Of course the CDC doesn't single out bicyclists for helmet use. It noted that motorcyclists account for 6% of all deaths and injuries, but 12% of the economic costs. This is because their injuries require long-term disability and rehabilitation services.

The report concludes:

“The substantial economic and societal costs associated with these injuries and deaths reinforce the need to implement evidence-based, cost effective strategies. Evidence-based strategies that target increasing seat belt use, increasing child safety seat use, increasing motorcyclist and pedalcyclist helmet use, and decreasing alcohol-impaired driving are available.”

The report also determined that older people accounted for a disproportionate share of injuries suffered by pedestrians. The authors said that creating and maintaining safe walking environments, such as well-designed sidewalks, curb cuts and increaseds crossing signal time, may help reduce injury and deaths not only to older adults, but all pedestrians.

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