US bicyclist deaths on the rise, study finds

U.S. bicyclist deaths on the rise, study finds
Two-thirds of riders who died weren't wearing helmets, report notes.
(HealthDay)—The number of bicyclist fatalities in the United States is increasing, particularly among adults in major cities, a recent study shows.

After decreasing from 1975 to 2010, the number of bicyclists killed annually increased by 16 percent from 2010 to 2012. More than 700 bicyclists died on U.S. roads in 2012, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.

The study also reported that the percentage of these deaths that occur in densely populated urban areas has risen from 50 percent in 1975 to 69 percent in 2012.

"We've seen a gradual trend over time where more adults are bicycling in cities, so we need cities to develop ways for cyclists and motorists to share the road," said report author Allan Williams, former chief scientist at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

But, the report also pointed out that many of the deaths were potentially preventable. Two-thirds of the deaths occurred in people who weren't wearing a helmet, the researchers found. And, in 2012, almost 30 percent of the deaths were in people who had a blood alcohol content level above the legal driving limit of 0.08 percent, according to the study.

One of the biggest shifts in cycling deaths was the average age of the victims. Eighty-four percent of bicycle deaths were in adults in 2012. That compares to just 21 percent in 1975, according to the study. Overall, adult males accounted for 74 percent of the bicyclists killed in 2012, the researchers reported.

The new research also found that states with high populations and multiple cities accounted for the majority of bicycle fatalities. Between 2010 and 2012, California, Florida, New York and Texas had nearly half of the country's total bicyclist fatalities.

Part of the explanation for the increasing number of bicycle deaths is that more people are bicycling to and from work, the report suggested. Nearly 300,000 more people biked to work in 2008 to 2012 than in 2000, according to U.S. Census data.

"There has been a national movement to get people out walking and biking because it has major benefits for their health, and for the environment," said Jacob Nelson, director of traffic safety advocacy and research with the Automobile Association of America.

"While it is important to encourage more people to walk and bike, we need to think about how we manage a growing number of vulnerable road users," Nelson said. "Policy makers who are vocal advocates for walking and biking need to also be vocal advocates for creating safe environments for bicyclists—and I'm not sure that always happens."

Some cities have developed more bike lanes and changed traffic patterns to accommodate the increasing number of bicyclists on their roads, according to the report. These methods may create a barrier between motor vehicles and cyclists, making the roads a safer place for cyclists.

Another important step in reducing bicycle fatalities is the consistent use of a helmet. Wearing a properly fitted helmet significantly reduces the chances of having a serious head injury, according to Williams. But, nearly half of American adults never wear a helmet while riding a bicycle, according to background information from the report.

"It's unfortunate that there is no adult law requiring helmets," said Williams, who noted in the report that 21 states have helmet laws for minors. "The best we can do is to take an educational approach by telling people that helmets can protect people from traumatic head injuries, and that many fatal accidents involve injuries to the head," Williams said.

About one-fourth of crashes happen in darkness, so wearing reflective clothing or attaching a light to the bicycle can help motorists notice cyclists, Williams advised. And, as with driving a motor vehicle, don't drink alcohol before cycling, the researchers cautioned.

"Bicyclists must remember that they have to follow the same rules as motor vehicles," Williams said.

The report was published recently by the Governors Highway Safety Association.


Explore further

Australia: Change to bicycle helmet laws could be a fatal mistake

More information: Find out more about safe biking at the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

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User comments

Z99
Jan 02, 2015
In the last ~3 years the number of greybeards riding bikes has ballooned. Traffic laws are inconsistent from place to place - some require bikes to ride on sidewalks, others make that illegal. Drivers don't even know what the 3 basic hand signals mean, and I'm sure many (if not most) bicylists don't know either, certainly very few use them. There are also ridiculous signs on many bike routes. Obviously installed by non-bikers. Hint: don't use Stop when Yield should do. Until its a prison offense to drink and drive, first time; deaths of pedestrians and bicylists by car will continue to rise. OTOH, my cousin was killed when a cop waved him through an intersection. So, police need better education, road designers need better education, traffic regulators need better education, drivers do, and so do bicylists. My pet peeve? 1. Roads with curbs and no space for bikers 2. Drainage grates that swallow bike tires (and nowhere else (except swerving into the traffic lane) for me to go).

Jan 02, 2015
1. Be seen.
2. See.
3. Go behind a car, if you have a choice or chance.
4. Ride on the side walk if you can, then yield to pedestrians.
5. Bike lights are good. High intensity, fast flash LED flash lights are better.
I have one on my helmet. If there is a doubt a driver might not see me, I look at them.
All doubt is removed.

Jan 02, 2015
People on cell phones look left to turn right. They accelerate then look right. I have been hit once and two near misses. Riding in traffic is not a good idea. 3. Go behind car works but be aware they can back up.

Jan 03, 2015
Seems pointless to examine stats state by state. I bet there aren't many deaths in, say Big Bend or Death Valley (except maybe by dehydration).

By urban region would be more telling. Then compare to other densely populated regions. Around the world, like Copenhagen and Amsterdam, to get some useful hints on reducing bicycle accidents, fatalities.

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