The deaths of 618 bicyclists is still too many, but the downward trend seems to be a good sign as the number of bicyclists on the road appears to be rising. The number of bicyclists injured remained constant, at 51,000, when compared to the previous year.
The numbers were included in a federal report that noted that all traffic deaths fell to 32,885 in 2010, a 2.9% drop that reflected the lowest number since 1949. That decrease came as Americans drove their motor vehicles 1.6% more miles than the previous year.
There's no comparable data for bicycles miles ridden to compare the rates of bicycle fatalities year to year.
A discouraging sign was the 4.2% increase in pedestrians killed in traffic, up to 4,109 in 2010.
In making the announcement, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the department would start counting “distraction-affected crashes.” It will quantify the number of collisions caused by drivers talking or texting on a cellphone, fiddling with the vast array of electronic gizmos that adorn modern dashboards, shaving, applying makeup or other distractions.
Although there's no comparative data with previous years, an observational survey of drivers in traffic shows that 5% of drivers are talking on a cellphone at any one time. According to the “Driver Electronic Device Use in 2010″ report, 660,000 motor vehicles are being operated at any one moment during daylight hours by someone using a hand-held cellphone.
Drivers observed texting or manipulating a cellphone rose from .6% in 2009 to .9% of drivers in 2010.
Based on historical bicycle fatality figures published in the Traffic Safety Factors for 2009 report this spring, the 2010 numbers were the lowest recorded since 1975 when 1,003 bicyclists died in traffic.
The numbers generally declined since then, but didn't drop below 700 until the year 2000. The previous low was 629 in 2003.
It's hard to predict the 2011 bicycle fatality rates. While Washington recorded 9 bicycle fatalities in 2009, for instance, the Seattle area alone has suffered 5 bicycle traffic fatalities since July.
We can only hope that improved road design and engineering, stricter laws, and attention to the rules of the road by motorists and bicyclists will drive down bicycling deaths in the future.
Bicycle traffic fatalities for past 10 years
2010 — 618
2009 — 630
2008 — 716
2007 — 701
2006 — 773
2005 — 786
2004 — 727
2003 — 629
2002 — 665
2001 — 732