Compared with driving a car these days, bicycles seem like such a safe mode of transportation, don’t they? However, statistics compiled by the Department of Transportation’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) tell a different story.
From FARS data, we know 817 people riding bicycles died in motor vehicle accidents in 2015 (the latest year of recorded statistics).
This is a serious concern, since it’s a 13% jump in the number of fatal bicycle accidents in this country over the prior year, and the greatest number of fatal bicycle accidents reported in the past 20 years.
Moreover, the number of bicyclists over the age of 20 years killed in a bike accident has increased 300%.
Danger of Dying While Riding a Bicycle
Why is riding a bicycle so dangerous? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), bicyclists die at twice the rate of someone who is driving a motor vehicle. Men are at a greater risk of a fatal bike accident than women by a great majority. CDC statistics for 2012, for instance, tallied 87% of all American bicycle accident deaths as male victims.
And these statistics apply only to motor vehicle accidents. Bicyclists can also suffer a fatal bicycle accident in a fall while riding a bicycle.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that there are two types of serious bicycle accidents: (1) falls and (2) motor vehicle accidents.
Falls are the most common cause of bicycle injury. Crashes involving a car, truck, or other motor vehicle are the most serious risk of harm for a bicyclist.
Injuries to the head or spine suffered in a fall from a bicycle can cause serious and permanent injury or even death. Falling off a bike happens all the time; however, failure to wear a helmet or other protective gear can turn a pleasant ride far from traffic into a dangerous event.
The National Safety Council reports that in 2014, over 510,000 people were seen in emergency rooms for injuries sustained in a fall from a bicycle. This total is higher than the combined number of patients seen for accidents involving riding skateboards, playing on playground equipment, swimming in swimming pools, and jumping on trampolines.
The total number of Emergency Room patients treated for hurt in falls from bicycles is higher than those treated in emergency rooms for any sport except for basketball.
Motor Vehicle Accidents
The greatest risk of a fatal bicycle accident happens on the road when the bicyclist collides with any kind of motor vehicle driving at any rate of speed.
The risk of dying in a motor vehicle accident when you are riding a bicycle is terrifyingly high. It is even higher if the bicyclist is not wearing a helmet.
- Fifty-four (54%) percent of bicyclists killed in 2015 were not wearing helmets. And that figure may be low, because the 2015 data for whether or not the bike rider was wearing a helmet was not known for 29% of the bicycle fatalities that year.
- Sometimes bicyclists have been drinking alcohol. Accident reports show that bicyclists ages 16 and older who died in a bicycle accident during 2015 were more likely to be drunk than many may assume. In 2015, almost a quarter of fatal bike accident victims had blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) at or above 0.08 percent (legally drunk in Indiana or Illinois) at 23%.
- March is the safest month to ride a bicycle on the street; July is the most dangerous. Bicyclist deaths in motor vehicle crashes during 2015 were highest during July (12%) and lowest during March (5%).
- The time of day makes a difference, too. During 2015, bicyclist deaths in motor vehicle accidents were highest between the early evening hours of 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. (24%).
- Times have changed; now, fatal bicycle accident is more likely in a city. Forty years ago, it was an even split between rural and urban areas insofar as the riskiest location for a fatal bike accident with a car or truck. Today, a great majority (70%) of bicyclists are killed in urban motor vehicle accidents.
- Intersections kill. Statistics show that over a third (35%) of bicyclist deaths in auto accidents happen at street intersections.
- Minor roads are dangerous. While the majority (54%) of fatal bicycle accidents involving collisions with a car or truck happened on major roads and streets (not interstates and freeways), almost a third of them happened on what researchers considered to be minor roads. Like suburban streets and local two-lane roadways.
Bicycle Accidents and Insurance Claims
Bicycle safety must be a growing concern for those of us who ride a bicycle here in Indiana or Illinois (as well as those who entrust their kids or loved ones to bicycles as transportation).
More and more, people are choosing to ride a bicycle instead of driving a car according to recent reports. This means that the risk of a fatal bicycle accident will continue to increase in the future.
Loved ones of those injured in a bicycle-related motor vehicle accident may need to investigate the victim’s rights under state personal injury law as well as the remedies provided under the wrongful death statutes of Indiana and Illinois.
While many drivers (and their insurance adjusters) may be quick to blame the bike rider for the accident, arguing that the bicyclist is responsible for the fatal accident, this may well not be accurate. Placing blame on the bicyclist is a common assumption by the driver in a motor vehicle accident; however, proving fault is rarely that simple.
In our next post, the discussion of how to protect against serious and fatal bicycle accidents with details on National Bicycle Safety Month.
Here in Indiana and Illinois, warmer weather will invite bicyclists of all ages out to share our roads and streets. More kids and young adults are going to choose to ride their bikes to class and to work. Statistics warn of the dangers here: there will be serious bicycle accidents where bike riders are hurt, perhaps fatally, in crashes with motor vehicles of all types and sizes.
Let’s do all we can to protect ourselves and our loved ones by being aware of the dangers of bicycles sharing the roadways with cars, trucks, minivans, and SUVs. Let’s be careful out there!