Three in a week – that was last week’s post…

Now it’s FIVE in TWO weeks…  Five cyclists killed from August 27 – September 12, 2012.  Just how “risky” is riding a bike in Ohio?

Five Cycling Deaths in 2 Weeks

I’ve been involved in bike advocacy for 25+ years in this area, statewide and nationally.  [Regular readers know that you can check out my Bike Lawyer bio here.]  I represent those injured or killed in crashes from 9-5 and work on bike advocacy issues from 5-9.  I sit on the Ohio Bicycle Federation Board of Trustees where I help draft “bike laws” and review legal issues which impact cyclists.  I also study, and write about, bike crashes and bike crash statistics and data.  I’ve worked with the CCC on legal issues since the 1980s.  I feel competent to talk about the “risk” of adult cycling.
In today’s Enquirer there was a long article about the state of cycling in Cincinnati.  Things HAVE improved dramatically in Cincinnati in the past 5 years… we are probably at the very best point of “bicycle-dom” in this city since, well, the 1880’s, when the Cincinnati Cycle Club was formed!
I think the story overstates the “risk” of cycling, however.  It is true that there has been a tiny cluster of data in the past two weeks.  Two cyclists have been killed – the first cycling deaths in Cincinnati in several years.  We had 3 in 2006, 1 in 2008 and zero in 2007, 2009, 2010 & 2011!
From a “risk” perspective, cycling around here is VERY safe.  I have ODPS reports listing the details of  every bike/car crash in the state, county by county, since 2005 – Ohio averages around 2,000 crashes per year – Hamilton County averages about 135.  Considering car/car crashes average around 300,000 per year, 2,000 seems pretty small [<1%].  When you consider that HALF of those 2000 crashes are KIDS [<18] the risk of an ADULT rider being in a crash is very very low.

2006-2010 “Kid” Crashes

This chart is from the Ohio Dept of Public Safety.  I have to say I was surprised by this factoid -I study bike crashes, from a cause perspective, but didn’t have the statistical ability to break down the data I had by age.  ODPS looked at the age of those involved in the 10,000 bike/car crashes from 2006-2010 and found that more than half of the “bike/car” crashes investigated by police involved KIDS –  from age 5-18…
Cycling fatalities are also very rare.  As regular readers know, I have an ongoing project in which I am studying the details of EVERY bicyclist fatality in Ohio. I obtain the full crash reports, witness statements, accident reconstruction data, and photographs and study them carefully.  As a 30 year trial lawyer with a math degree who has handled more than 300 “bike” cases and who has worked with some of the top bike crash experts in the country, I feel competent to analyze the data independently.  I look to see if I think the police “got it right” when assigning fault.  I also try to determine if any criminal charges arose from the crash and track those cases.  I review media coverage, to some extent.  Ultimately, I hope that this research will allow me to see “trends” and determine patterns of behavior, good and bad, which lead to fatal crashes.
Ohio has averaged 16 cycling fatalities per year from 1994-2011.  While half of all crashes involve kids, 90% of those killed are adults!
The second chart attached is one I prepared from ODPS yearly traffic reports dating back to 1994.  I then ranked them in order from “best” to “worst” – 2 of the top 3 “best” years [fewest deaths] were 2010 and 2011!  I’m hoping this is a trend …

Ohio Bike Crash Data 1994-2010

Unfortunately, 2012 has not followed this trend.
2 weeks ago we were doing “OK” in Ohio – there had been 9  fatal bike crashes in Ohio from January 1 to August 4.  4 of the fatal crashes were just… unusual – an experienced cyclist in Mansfield hit a concrete “bollard” in the middle of a bike trail during a group ride and died; a drunk cyclist fell off her bike into the path of a pick up truck in a trailer park; a very experienced Columbus cyclist lost control coming down a hill and hit a guard rail; a rider in North Royalton just falls off the bike and dies.
Then came Andrew Gast, killed in Cincinnati, and Thomas Leonard, killed in Franklin County on 8/27, and Nathan Smith, killed in Marion County on 9/1, and Joseph Davis, killed in Lucas County on 9/9 and finally, Ronald Richardson, killed in Cincinnati on 9/12.
These five deaths were from various “causes” – when the crashes are so fresh it is difficult to determine a “cause” because the police reports are still be prepared.
I was on the scene of Andrew Gast’s crash before the bike and car were pulled apart, so I feel like I have a good perspective of that one.  I’ve been to the scene of Mr. Richardson’s crash, and have no CLUE what happened there yet.   From media reports, it appears that Mr. Smith was riding against traffic at night when he was struck, although the crash remains under investigation. Mr. Davis was “crossing” a road when he was killed, but we don’t know if he was going sidewalk to sidewalk or in the lane of travel.  Mr. Leonard was struck from behind near the Columbus airport, but details have not been released.
ALL of these crashes had one thing in common – darkness.
Mr. Gast was well lit, at least I believe he was “legally” lit.  The person who sold Mr. Gast his bicycle…and light set… contacted me and sent me the receipt for the bike and light, which I turned over to police investigators. The photos I took at the scene showed the remains of his rear light still mounted to the bike.  The investigating officer told me police took Mr. Gast’s front light and found remains of his rear light, which was smashed in the crash.   The rest of the crashes I don’t know anything about…yet…
If there is a message to cyclists from these crashes it is about the importance of being as conspicuous as possible on the roadway at night- OVERDO the lighting- wear as much reflective gear as you can.  this required by law? No -just basic lights and reflectors are required.  However, this “darkness” theme is one which we see year after year – almost half of the fatal crashes in 2010, 2011 and now 2012 have occurred in the dark… In MOST, the cyclist was NOT well lit…
Cyclists should understand that most motorists “overdrive” their headlights – you might be visible from 500 yards away during the day… at night, a motorist might not realize you are in front of the car until you are much closer…
The CCC, QCB and MoBo are developing a program, Queen City Blinkies, to get lights to people who can’t afford them.
So What Is The Risk of Riding?
The Enquirer story quotes “motorists” saying “They shouldn’t be on the road…” The writer states: “the hazard is real.”  But is cycling “risky?”  How is this measured?
Bike crashes and, especially, fatal bike crashes are the train wrecks, plane crashes & shipwrecks of “risk” analysis.  They don’t happen all that often – they are very rare in the grand scheme of things.  People don’t say airplane travel is “risky” and “hazardous” because of a crash.  They look at the overall safety record.  Overall, planes, trains and ship usually travel and arrive safely.  Overall, millions of Ohio cyclists ride tens of millions of miles each year… safely and without incident.
The sample size of crashes,  fatal crashes, in Ohio is very small.  The RISK of crashing with a car in Ohio is also VERY small. There are millions of OHio cyclists riding tens of millions of miles in this state each year-  1000 adults are involved in car/bike crashes – a few per day.  Compared to an average of almost 1000 CAR crashes per day in the state, it is clear that your odds of being in a car crash are FAR greater than being in a bike crash.
On a national level, the “Big 3” of bicycle fatalities are always Florida, California and Texas.  Florida is off the charts ahead of everyone.  Ohio is ranked in a cluster of states in the 15-20 average. NHTSA publishes a Bicycle Crash Data report every year, the 2010 report is here. There were 618 cyclists killed nationwide in 2010, 11 in Ohio.  The Big 3 FL, CA, TX accounted for 224, or a whopping 36%.  If you add NY’s total to that you get 260… which means 4 states account for 42% of all bike fatalities- another way of looking at that is that by NOT cycling in FL, CA TX or NY your chances of dying go DOWN 42% from an already incredibly low risk!!
The last page of the NHTSA report is a state by state breakdown of total traffic fatalities, bicyclist fatalities and other data.  The “fatalities per million of population” stat is an interesting one.  Ohio’s rata is 0.95 – so less than 1 cyclist killed per million people for 2010.  [We had 11 fatalities 2010, and a little more than 11,000,000 people.] Compare Ohio to  Florida [4.4], CA [2.65], TX [1.66], DC, SC, NC, SD etc etc… we are lower than MOST states in the rate of bicycle fatalities per million people… given our high population and relatively small size, we have remarkably FEW bicycle fatalities in Ohio each year…
We were all hoping that the Enquirer story would be a positive story, from the cycling perspective… I think overall it is… I do not think that overstating “risk” does anyone any favors, however.
There is an excellent book “How Risky Is It, Really- Why our fears don’t match the facts”  which looks at how people develop unreasonable views of “risk” – often from media reports – I think there is already an unreasonable perception in the “public” that cycling is “dangerous” – it isn’t – I think it is important that accurate data be reported on the “risk” of riding a bicycle…
Let’s be careful out there!
Printed from: .
© 2024.


  • Ken Kifer showed quite convincingly on his website that cycling is actually a very safe activity – safer even than car travel. But proving it and getting people to believe it are two different things, and as long as cycling accidents get the sort of press they do, where the attitude of the journalist is that cycling is more dangerous than skydiving, people are not going to believe it’s anywhere near as safe as it really is.

    In terms of cycling safety, I think a big part of the problem is that we’re not teaching kids how to cycle anymore. There is no education program for cyclist safety, other than a completely voluntary and unpublicized program via the League of American Bicyclists. Why is this program not in our schools, as similar programs are in European schools?

    Instead of educating cyclists, we urge them to wear a helmet and stay off the roads, and we think that will keep them safe, despite the reality, which is that no helmet ever prevented a collision, and avoiding the road has been shown in numerous studies to INCREASE the risk to cyclists.

    Our society has become one in which cycling is discouraged for fears of traffic that bear no relationship to reality. In fact, it’s worse than that, because we fear what’s safe and urge cyclists to act in ways that are unsafe. By avoiding the road and thus becoming less visible to other road users, we make collisions at intersections more likely. This plays into the existing paranoia, making us even more fearful of traffic, and the whole thing feeds on itself.

    What we need is for schools to actively employ LAB and Cycling Savvy instructors, and other people trained in teaching the basics of true cycling safety. Until we start doing that, the death toll will probably rise, as the numbers of those of us who still remember the cycling safety lessons we learned as kids dwindle, and our descendents forget the lessons of the past.

  • I’m glad to see this blog post confirming facts that I’ve been studying for many, many years.

    I don’t know the origin of the “Bicycling is Dangerous” fallacy. But I do know that it’s false, by any rational standard, as Mr. Magas has nicely demonstrated. This old article
    presents further evidence, and there are volumes of more recent evidence available. For example, there have been several recent studies proving that the health benefits of bicycling tremendously outweigh the risks. One such study found the benefits were an astonishing 77 times greater than the risks!

    But I’m struck by the harm done to society by the “Danger!” attitude. Study after study has shown this fallacy is _the_ major deterrent to getting people to use a bike instead of a car. Few kids now bike to school, or even explore their neighborhoods. Few Americans will bike three blocks to pick up a loaf of bread; they use the car instead. Few of us get the minimum amount of exercise necessary for good health.

    Perhaps worse, for those of us who do ride, are the incessant calls to “do something” about the imaginary danger. Often, this leads to discriminatory laws making conditions worse for cyclists. Often, it leads to demands for “innovative” facilities that violate predictable traffic movements and make things worse, not better. Often it leads to more people refusing to ride until such weird facilities are built.

    I’m glad to see glimmers of sanity on this matter. I hope the message gets out!

  • Khal Spencer says:

    We have similar problems with the public perception of risk in my line of work. Every year, we are told how dangerous it is to work with nuclear materials or to have LANL as a neighbor. Every year, we don’t hurt anybody (including ourselves). In fact, the last five fatals on Dept. of Energy land up here have all been car wrecks! I worry a lot less about working in my lab than I do riding my motorcycle to Taos and back.

    Meanwhile, drunk drivers kill 100 or more people on our roads. So what is more dangerous? Having a well run plutonium facility in northern new mexico, or driving from Santa Fe to Albuquerque on a Friday night? But the big irrational fears without any statistical validity always trump the logical ones.

  • Steve Magas says:

    Thanks for the note Ian -sorry it took me so long to see it – I agree 100% that teaching HOW to ride/drive is key. IN the motorcycle world there is a saying that the most dangerous part of a motorcycle is the nut that holds the wheel – same is true for motoring in general. Virtually EVERY crash is caused by pilot error – speed – failure to judge speed/distance – not”seeing” what is there to be seen – distraction – etc etc etc. There are almost NO ‘Acts of God’ that cause true “accidents” – we are often told “it can happen to anyone” – so can being held up at gunpoint – that doesn’t make a stick-up any less criminal – Educating cyclists on HOW to ride as part of the “traffic” family is important and educating motorists to include bicycles in their constant “scanning” is key…

  • jack says:

    So, what does ACDA mean in reference to the Wilmer incident? Thanks

  • Steve Magas says:

    ACDA stands for “Assured Clear Distance Ahead” – it comes from O.R.C. 4511.21 – the speed limit law, which states: “… (A) No person shall operate a motor vehicle, trackless trolley, or streetcar at a speed greater or less than is reasonable or proper, having due regard to the traffic, surface, and width of the street or highway and any other conditions, and no person shall drive any motor vehicle, trackless trolley, or streetcar in and upon any street or highway at a greater speed than will permit the person to bring it to a stop within the assured clear distance ahead….”

    ACDA is my designation for a basic “rear-ender” – the basic rule is that you have to drive so that you can stop before clobbering the vehicle ahead


  1. HOW “RISKY” IS RIDING A BIKE IN OHIO? | Steve Magas Ohio's … | Bicycle News Gator
  2. How “RISKY” is riding a bike in Ohio? Not very… » Queen City Bike

RSS feed for comments on this post , TrackBack URI

Leave a Comment