A report by a national highway safety association is shining a spotlight on the increase in bicyclist deaths in traffic.
Newspapers and other media outlets are reporting that bicycle traffic deaths have been on the rise since hitting a 10-year-low in 2009, a fact that many bicycle advocates already have been tracking. Reports from California and Florida were particularly startling, since California leads the nation overall in bicycle deaths, while Florida leads per capita.
The report, Bicyclist Safety, published by the Governors Highway Safety Association finds that bicycle traffic deaths rose 16% from 2010 (621) to 2012 (722).
Those results are closing in line with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration which reported in November 2013 that reported a 6.5% increase in bicycle traffic deaths between 2011 and 2012.
The governors report researched and written by Dr. Allan Williams concluded that “lack of helmet use and alcohol impairment have been and continue to be major contributing factors in bicyclist deaths.”
Although states often rely on education and enforcement to improve bicycle safety, he goes on to write that “physical separation” is preferable when bikes and motor vehicles use the road.
” … the goal is to reduce the time or distance in which bicyclists are exposed to risk via marked bike lanes, bicycle boulevards, separate bicycle traffic signals, and other techniques. These treatments can be supplemented by methods to slow motor vehicles down, and roadway lighting and warning signs to increase awareness of the presence of bicyclists.”
Williams relied on the national Fatality Analysis Reporting System to determine that 17% of fatally injured bicycle riders were wearing helmets and 65% were not. Helmet use was not known in 18% of the cases.
Williams also reported that from 2007 to 2011, 25% of fatally injured bicyclists had blood alcohol content above 0.08%, which is the threshold for drunken driving for motor vehicles in the US.
The reaction to the report by bicycle advocacy groups has been unanimously negative.
The League of American Bicyclists, for instance, points out that 16% increase from 2010 to 2012 comes after a long period of declining fatalities. It more importantly points out that, over 30 years, the number of bicycle trips has increased as the fatalities decreased.
Using official data from the US Department of Transportation, the total number of bike trips more than tripled from 1,272 million in 1977 to 4,081 million in 2009. During the same period, the number of cyclist fatalities fell from 922 in 1977 to 628 in 2009, a decrease of 32%. Taking into account the increased level of cycling, the cyclist fatality rate fell by a dramatic 79%. In short, cycling has become roughly four times safer per bike trip over the past three decades.
Meanwhile, the Alliance for Biking and Walking reports that although California may have had the most bicycling fatalities, the number of people who ride bicycles in the state is higher than most other states. That means the rate of bicycle deaths is less.
Our data, pulled from the 2014 Benchmarking Report, show that California had a lower than average bicyclist fatality rate based on three-year averages from 2009 to 2011. An average of 104.3 bicyclists died on California streets each year, which amounts to 6.3 bicyclist fatalities per 10,000 biking commuters. On the other hand, states that seem perfectly safe for biking according to the GHSA report actually have pretty high fatality rates. Mississippi only had an average of 7 bicyclist fatalities per year from 2009 to 2011, but that works out to 70.4 fatalities per 10,000 bicyclists. Based on the rate, it’s clear that Mississippi faces some more safety hurdles than California.
State by state
Here’s the state by state chart for bicycle fatalities in traffic from the Bicycle Safety report.
Meanwhile, Washington state — the No. 1 bicycle friendly state — has issued an advisory for motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists on staying safe as daylight saving time ends on Sunday (turn clocks back one hour). From the Washington State Department of Transportation:
Pedestrians and Bicyclists
- Be seen – Wear bright or reflective outerwear, carry a flashlight, add lights to your bike or helmet and cross at lighted intersections when possible.
- Make eye contact – Know that the driver is aware of your presence so keep hats, hoods and umbrellas clear of your vision.
- Walk and bike where it’s safest – Use sidewalks and bike lanes when they are available, and if not, walk at the edge of the road facing traffic, and ride with the flow of traffic.
- Cross the roadway at intersections – Crossing in mid-block, or jaywalking, is a contributing circumstance in pedestrian collisions. This applies in parking lots and garages.