While More Popular, Bicycling Also Becoming More Dangerous

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • I almost created a statistic. Last fall, I opted to get up early one Saturday to participate in a hazardous waste recycling program in my area.  I always like to get there early in order to avoid the lines that develop later in the day. That particular morning was still dark since we were in that period before the time change. I left my home with a car loaded with things to turn in and took the highway to the proper exit. I pulled onto the access road and moved to the far right-hand lane since I would have to turn at the first light. I was coasting at that point to lower my speed when all of a sudden I saw a blinking light coming at me. I immediately swerved and stepped on the brakes, narrowly avoiding an older gentleman who was riding his bicycle the wrong way (against traffic on a highway access road) on that dark morning. He was probably out getting a ride for his health but his morning route was a dangerous one. Fortunately, the car behind me also responded in a similar way so we all avoided a collision at that point. I left that location shivering and realizing again how vulnerable bicyclists are – and how a bad decision on their part can potentially lead to a tragedy.

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    It turns out that this cyclist is not alone in courting danger. A new study from the Governors Highway Safety Association found that the number of bicyclists who died while cycling yearly increased by 16 percent between 2010 and 2012. In fact, more than 700 bicyclists died in 2012. That’s a stark change from 1975-2010 when the number of bicyclists who were killed actually decreased.  Six states had 54 percent of the fatalities: California, Florida, Illinois, New York, Michigan and Texas. Additionally, bicyclists who were killed in motor vehicle crashes increased between 2010 and 2012 in 16 other states.

    That may not be surprising when you take into account the increase in people who are riding to work.  In fact, U.S. Census data suggests that nearly 300,000 additional people have started biking to work in 2008-2012 than in 2000. Furthermore, the percentage of deaths in urban areas has increased substantially from 50 percent in 1975 to 69 percent in 2012.

    And the age of the bicyclists who are dying is much older than before. In fact, 84 percent of those who died in 2012 were adults (as compared to 21 percent in 1975.). Adult males are at a higher risk of dying since they made up 74 percent of the bicyclists who were killed in roadway accidents in 2012.

    However, the report suggests that many of these deaths could have been prevented by taking several precautions. One of those, not surprisingly, is wearing a helmet.  In fact, two-thirds of the cyclists who died weren’t wearing a helmet.  The other major factor was blood alcohol content level that was able the legal driving limit of .08 percent. The researchers found that almost 30 percent of bicyclists who died in 2012 were riding under the influence.

    Therefore, it’s important to remember that bicycles that travel on roadways are legally considered vehicles and have the same rights and responsibilities as motorized vehicles.  That also means you should avoid riding your bike after you’ve had a few adult beverages.

  • While that is sobering news, I actually appreciate the take of The League of American Bicyclists, which has offered five very useful Rules of the Road:

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    • Follow the law. You need to obey traffic signals as well as stop signs. Ride with traffic. Use the lane that is the furthest to the right that is headed in the direction that you’ are going.
    • Be predictable. Make your intentions while bicycling clear and ride in a straight line. Avoid swerving between parked cars. Signal when you plan to turn and keep checking behind you as you start to think about turning or changing lanes.
    • Be conspicuous. Visibility is important when you’re a bicyclist so you want to make sure you’re riding where people can see you (so avoid riding on sidewalks where vehicles can’t see you easily). Also, wear bright colors and use a front white light, red rear light and reflectors. (I also have flashing air caps on my bicycle’s tires that are attention getters in low light.)
    • Think ahead. Try to anticipate other people’s next moves so you can avoid a collision.  Additionally, watch for road hazards, such as potholes and road hazards. If you have to cross railroad tracks, try to cross at a ight angle.
    • Ride ready. Make sure that your bicycle is functioning well (brakes working, tires properly inflated, etc.). Be sure to carry the necessary tools and supplies for the ride and wear a helmet. I’d also suggest that you carry water and a snack as well as some sort of map (whether an actual one or a phone app) in case you get lost. Also, be sure to carry a charged phone to be able to call someone in case you need help.

    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

    Governors Highway Safety Association. (2014). Bicyclist fatalities a growing problem for key groups.

    Medline Plus. (2015). U.S. bicyclist deaths on the rise, study finds.
    National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (ND). Bicycles.

    Schroeder, P. & Wilbur, M. (2013). 2012 National survey of bicyclists and pedestrian attitudes and behavior, volume 1: Summary report. (Report No. DOT HS 811 841 A). Washington, D. C.: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

    The League of American Bicyclists. (ND). Rules of the Road.

Published On: January 08, 2015