Bicycle Crash Statistics – IS IT SAFE TO RIDE?

It’s finally SPRING and riding weather is here in abundance!  With bicycle weather, unfortunately, comes a slew of bicycle crashes.  Reading about people hurt or killed in crashes tends to get us wondering – Is Cycling Safe?

I think the short answer is a resounding YES!!!

Do you remember 1975?  I do.  I was a high school senior.  I worked for a buddy of my dad, drilling holes in marble rectangles that would eventually be used to make bowling trophies. I got a Penny per hole.  I saved enough to buy my first “real” bike – a yellow Schwinn Continental.  I think I spent $110.00, plus tax, on that bike – or more than 11,000 holes drilled [not counting the ones I got docked for because they broke during the drilling process!]

Back in 1975 there was a huge BIKE BOOM underway.  People were riding – a lot.  KIDS were riding a lot.  Before my 10-speed Continental, I had a big, heavy bike with those Sturmey Archer 3-speed shifters and the huge, metal “paper boy” rear baskets.  I took that bike all over the little town of Mansfield, Ohio.

Statistics for that era reflect those memories.  In 1975, there were 1003 cyclists killed on U.S. roadways.  Of those, it was a 50/50 split between urban and rural settings. Men were killed 7 times more often than women.  However, I think word “men” is inappropriate.  You see, in 1975, 67%  of the cyclists killed on U.S. roadways were under the age of 16!

Yes, 2 out of every 3 cyclists killed were kids in 1975.

Statistics for bicycle crashes show us that since 1975 the demographics for bicycle crashes have completely flip-flopped.  In 2008, NHTSA published its “Traffic Safety Facts for Bicyclists and Other Cyclists,” taking a close look at more recent trends.  NHTSA’s numbers show that 716 cyclists were killed in 2008 – slightly more than 2007, but in line with a 10 year trend of less than 800 cyclists killed each year since 1998.

Cyclist fatalities still accounted for 2% of all highway deaths in 2008.  That number has been between 1-2% ever since the first statistics started being kept in the 1930s.

The Kids vs. Adults comparison is most interesting.  In 1998 the average age of a cyclist involved in a fatal crash was 32.  In 2008, the average age was 41.  Compared to 1975, when 2/3 of all cyclists fatalities involved kids under the age of 16, it is clear that the entire cycling demographic has changed.

You see it everywhere, I’m sure.  In your neighborhood – with your kids.  Do you kids wander around town on their bikes?  Probably not.

For me, as a teenager in the mid-1970’s, it was nothing to leave the house in the morning on the bike and MAYBE come home for lunch.  My and my buddies would be riding all over – from ball diamond to park to ice cream stand.  For, I am certain, a variety of reasons that just doesn’t happen any more.

One downside of this is that kids miss out on learning the absolute JOY that comes with the freedom of being on a bike.  Kids miss out on being able to MOVE from place to place without a play date and without waiting for Dad or Mom to take them.

Can we develop a SAFE way to encourage kids to ride again without exposing them to the statistical population of cycling fatalities? I guess that is one of the many challenges facing the bike industry, bike safety experts and those encouraging our country to RIDE.  Those 1975 cycling fatality statistics were littered with dozens of “dart out” cases – kids jumping from sidewalk to roadway, without paying attention to traffic. Safe Riding means teaching everybody – Kids & Adults – about the Rules of the Road and how to ride safely in traffic.

I wonder if, in ten years, the average age of cycling deaths will go up to 52?  Does that mean our aging population is still riding, but we’re losing the newer, younger riders?

Is cycling SAFE?  YES!  Millions of safe miles are ridden every year.  Fatallities are trending DOWN from the mid-1970’s highs.  Considering Ohio’s 88 counties, dozens of clubs, tens of thousands of miles of roads and millions of riders, those are pretty good numbers.

Good Luck and Good Riding!

Steve Magas
The Bike Lawyer

To read more check out the following from NHTSA:

2008 Crash Stats STATE by STATE

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  • Fran McHugh says:

    I’m looking for any evidence to refute the argument that it is safer to ride facing traffic.

    In the absence of evidence I’m reduced to the argument that bicycles are considered vehicles and are therefore subject to vehicular laws. To change this status would also deprive us of the right to use the roadways freely.

    Any help would be appreciated.


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