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Monday, September 10, 2007

Is Bicycling Safe?

From Raise the Hammer (Hamilton, Ontario), 09.09.07:

Is Bicycling Safe?

The odds of dying from a bicycle crash are one in 71. This compares to one in 75 for a light truck (pickup truck, SUV, van), one in 108 for a car, one in 43 for a truck, one in 26 for a motorcycle, and one in 15 for a pedestrian. In other words, the odds of dying in a bike crash are about the same as the odds of dying in an SUV crash. The false sense of security that comes from an SUV tends to produce far more dangerous driving behaviour.

It also obscures the fact that an individual cyclist's choices strongly influence their risk of fatality. Cyclists are not helpless victims of safety statistics (even encouraging statistics).

It might not be politically expedient to state, but in the majority of bicycle crashes, the cyclist is at least partly at fault. Cyclists are hit when they ride on the sidewalk and appear out of nowhere at intersections; when they pass on the right; when they ride at night without lights and reflectors; when they ride the wrong way down one way streets; when they ride too closly to parked cars; and so on.

Bike infrastructure can certainly help: streets with clearly marked, well-maintained bike lanes are safer than streets without them. It's also clear that bike lanes increase the perception of safety for would-be cyclists.

However, the way you ride is a bigger factor in accident prevention. The absolute best way to avoid accidents is to ride as though you are driving a motor vehicle. In other words: be visible, follow the rules of the road, pay close attention to what's happening around you, and practice defensive riding. You will earn the respect of motorists, maximize your safety, and get the most enjoyment from cycling. (Read more.)
This commentary from Canada is a very effective summary of the risks of bicycling, in terms of hours spent cycling, distance traveled, commute mode, and life expectancy. In essence, it argues that responsible cyclists can effectively minimize their risks and avoid injury. And enjoy many happy, healthy miles on a bike.

Image: Web capture.
Visit: Mikael Colville-Andersen: Why we shouldn't bike with a helmet, TEDx Copenhagen
Visit: Vermont: Cycling Safety 101, Bike Commute Tips Blog
Visit: Brooklyn: Bike lanes save lives, Bike Commute Tips Blog
Visit: What to do if you have a collision (Interview with bicycling attorney Gary Brustin), Bike Commute Tips Blog
Visit: Bicycling Safety, Bike Commuting Tips
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips


Steven Vance said...

The article and this entry doesn't address the odds of dying while cycling or while driving.

First, one must crash. But what are the odds of getting into the crash while cycling?

The figures about which the article is written may have included this, but the wording surely doesn't say it.

Anonymous said...

I had to laugh when I checked the link on vehicular driving! It starts like this: "Imagine if everyone drove around the roads at random, without stopping, yielding, keeping a straight line, checking behind, or obeying any traffic rules. The public roads would be total, utter chaos."

Where I live (a developed Asian nation) many drivers (not everyone, but many) fail to maintain straight lines, fail to ever signal unless they're turning right from the leftmost lane and vice-versa, don't know that they have blind spots (really- I talked to them about it) never yield to crosswalks or stop sufficiently back at corners (because they can't see around the cars parked all around the corner) and stop lights are merely a suggestion. Some people blame the recent appearance of the car combined with their "quickly-quickly" attitude. One thing's for sure: it's chaotic.

Cycle commuting is certainly a fun activity here.

Yokota Fritz said...

Steven, the "odds of dying" are right near the top of the article: "the fatality rate for every million hours spent cycling is 0.26, compared to 0.47 per million driving hours."

Good post, Paul. There's a strong perception that cycling is dangerous and it's important to combat these fears with education and promotion.

sasquatch2 said...

I agree Fritz, education and promotion would help a lot in increasing cycle safety which would undoubtedly increase the # of bikes on the road. So where is this education and promotion going to come from? Maybe we can get the European TV commercials in America.

Some stats I dug up:
Bicycling stats

According to the largest risk consultation firm in the US[i] and a noted Australian statistician[ii], this is the rank of these activities, in fatalities per million hours:
#1 = Small planes: 15.6 fatalities per million hours;
#2 = On-road motorcycling, 8.8;
#3 = Swimming, 1.07;
#4 = Walking near traffic, 0.8;
#5 = Bicycling, 0.26 to 0.41 fatalities per million hours

according to the National Safety Council[i]
#1 = basketball, 690,000 ER visits per year
#2 = bicycling, 590,000
#3 = beds: 400,000
#4 = chairs & sofas, 390,000
#5 = carpets & rugs, 125,000

The total number of head injury fatalities in the US is around 75,000 per year.[i] (Estimates vary, up to 115,000). The total number of bicycling fatalities, from all injuries, is only about 800. The number of cyclists killed annually due to head injury is a maximum of 600, probably much less. That's not merely low; That's less than 1%!

Anonymous said...

Great post. Whenever I hear there's an accident involving a bike, my first question is what color of clothing were they wearing? Next, where on the street were they? And did they have a helmet?

Just yesterday I saw a biker, riding on the sidewalk, going against traffic, no helmet, proceed to cross the street when his crosswalk was red and cars were making a turn crossing his path. They had to stop to let this guy continue on his moronic way. Meanwhile I was safely riding with traffic taking the lane to get across and make the turn.

I would say rider behavior plays a large role in how cars respond to the presence of bikes.

Ajlouny said...

What are the odds of getting a serious injury in a bike accident. This only shows odds of dying. Bet the odds are a little higher.