In 1975, bike accidents in the U.S. killed an average of two children every day, while adult deaths were uncommon. Four decades later, the statistics are completely reversed. Fatalities among children have steadily dwindled while adult deaths have ballooned to record levels.
Bicycle deaths are rising, even outpacing the overall increase in traffic deaths. Why is this, with helmets, bike lanes and other safety measures? Increasingly, it’s cyclists over age 40 who are killed by cars.
Has it gotten more dangerous for bicyclists?
While U.S. traffic fatalities rose an alarming 7.2 percent in 2015, bicycle fatalities jumped 12.2 percent, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). There are a number of factors at play, as reflected in a report by the Governors Highway Safety Association underwritten by State Farm Insurance:
- More bikes – More and more people are riding bikes for exercise, leisure and commuting.
- More cars – There’s a greater number of drivers and they’re logging more miles.
- Distracted drivers – About 10 percent of bike fatalities are blamed on texting while driving and other distractions. And that figure may be low.
- Shared roadways – Increasingly, cars and bicycles are using the same roads, crossing paths in the street, in designated bike lanes, in turn lanes, at intersections and on the highway shoulder.
Fewer kids – but more adults – are killed on bikes
Forty years ago, nearly 800 bike riders under age 21 were killed each year, compared to about 200 adults. In 2015, only 91 children and youths died in bicycle accidents, but a record number of 720 adult riders were killed. The decline in child deaths owes much to helmet safety, as well as the fact that far fewer kids ride their bikes to school than in decades past.
The increase in adult bicycle deaths mirrors the increase in adults riding their bikes to work or cycling for exercise and recreation. Helmet use is also a factor – children are twice as likely as adult riders to wear bike helmets, and about half of all people killed on bikes did not have helmets.
The cycling population is getting older
In 1988, the average age of those killed in bicycle accidents was 24 years old. By 2004, that statistic had climbed to age 32, and as of 2015 the average age for a fatal bike accident is 45 years old. That indicates that a lot more people in their 50’s, 60’s and 70’s have taken up cycling. As with motorcycle riders, older cyclists typically have less keen eyesight, slower reflexes and less physical dexterity, contributing to the frequency and severity of accidents.
Battling the trend of bike fatalities
California had 128 bicycle fatalities in 2015, the second highest number in the country. Experts recommend that bike safety be more fully integrated into traffic safety planning and road construction. For example, they advocate for more designated bike lanes, clearly marked and separated from cars.
Some cities have implemented traffic lights that give cyclists a head start when the light turns green. And public safety campaigns to educate drivers to watch for bikes and give them room can go a long way toward reducing bike accidents and fatalities.
Cyclists play a role, too. All riders should wear helmets, especially when using public roadways, and obey traffic laws. At intersections, make eye contact with drivers to confirm that they see you. While alcohol is a factor in one-third of bike fatalities – statistics show that it’s more likely the cyclist was impaired. Don’t drink and ride!
Source: A Right to the Road: Understanding and Addressing Bike Safety (GHSA/State Farm)