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More cyclists being killed on US roads – changes correlate with an increase in cycle commuters

Adult cyclists in urban areas accounting for a greater proportion of fatalities

The United States has seen a rise in cycle fatalities according to a recent report by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA). The annual death rate rose by 16 per cent between 2010 and 2012 with figures indicating that casualties are increasingly an urban problem.

The report’s author, former Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Chief Scientist Dr Allan Williams, said that one of the most striking changes related to the age of victims. In 1975, only 21 per cent of fatalities were adults. In 2012, the figure was 84 per cent. In total, adult males comprised 74 per cent of the total number of cyclists killed in 2012.

With 69 per cent of all fatalities taking place in urban areas compared with 50 per cent in 1975, the change is thought to correlate with an increase in cycle commuting. 2013 Census Bureau data charts a 62 per cent rise since 2000.

It is a mixed picture, however. Six states – California, Florida, Illinois, New York, Michigan and Texas – accounted for 54 per cent of all fatalities, while 23 states averaged five or fewer deaths per year between 2010 and 2012. Williams points out that the former are high population areas with many urban centres and believes the figures reflect a high level of cycling and interaction with motor vehicles.

Several states have adopted ‘Complete Streets’ policies which aim to make roads safe and convenient for all forms of transport. However, as Williams notes:

“Roads were built to accommodate motor vehicles with little concern for pedestrians and bicyclists. Integrating motor vehicles and bicycles in already-built environments presents challenges.”

The report also concludes that lack of helmet use is a contributing factor to fatalities. Fatally injured cyclists were not wearing helmets in two-thirds of cases in 2012. A national survey the same year found that 46 per cent of cyclists did not wear one. Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia demand that helmets be worn by children, but no state demands adult helmet use.

Williams was also struck by the proportion of adult cyclists killed with high blood alcohol concentrations (BAC) – 28 per cent had a BAC of .08 or higher.

“What’s notable here is that the percentage of fatally injured bicyclists with high BACs has remained relatively constant since the early 1980s and did not mirror the sharp drop in alcohol-impaired driving that occurred among passenger vehicle drivers in the 1980s and early 1990s.”

However, that level remains lower than the 33 per cent seen for passenger vehicle drivers in the same period.

Alex has written for more cricket publications than the rest of the team combined. Despite the apparent evidence of this picture, he doesn't especially like cake.

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Tartle | 8 years ago

Unfortunately the other big reason for the increase in the adult/child fatality ratio is the huge decrease in kids riding bikes. I live in the burbs in Florida, and kids on bikes are now an uncommon sight on our streets.

lawrencefalk | 9 years ago
congokid | 9 years ago

See the blog for a detailed rebuttal of all the misleading figures that has parroted above.

To summarise the blog's reply, the report:

- is framed with pointlessly divisive language
- makes no effort to calculate fatality rates as a share of ridership
- lists states with lots of bike fatalities which are also just states with lots of people (they contain most of the largest cities in the US, where cycling is quite common)
- dismisses the rapidly spreading installation of protected bike lanes
- names drunk biking and biking without a helmet as major safety problems without offering evidence
- misses by far the most important story about bike safety from 1975 to 2012 - which is that average bike fatalities per year are down, and so also are the bike fatalities per trip.

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