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Make Cycling Safer, Report on Bike Deaths Recommends

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Cover of Governors Highway Safety Association report
Cover of Governors Highway Safety Association report

It seems that the Grim Reaper has been busy collection cyclists, based on a report released by the Governors Highway Safety Association.  From 621 deaths in 2010, cycling fatalities increased to 680 in 2011 then to 722 in 2012.  It is obviously a source of concern considering that that is a 16% rise as compared to the 1% rise in overall motor vehicles fatalities for the same period.

“54 percent of all bicyclist deaths in collisions with motor vehicles” occurred in the states of California, Florida, Illinois, New York, Michigan, and Texas, according to the report.  California and Florida not only had the most such fatalities at 338 and 329 respectively, they also had the largest increases at 23 in the Golden State and 37 for the Sunshine State.

However, the biking community blog Bike Portland argues, that the report “[assesses] the risk of biking by tallying the number of times somebody died, rather than considering the probability that somebody would die.”

But that shouldn’t take away from the fact that more cyclists are heading up in heaven as they commute through the highway to hell.  And the major reason is simple – more people are biking.   Using data from National Household Travel Surveys from 1977 to 2009, People for Bikes estimated that the yearly number of bike trips made in the US jumped from roughly 1.25 billion in 1977 to more than 3.75 billion in 2009.

That would make much sense, after all aside from its obvious environmental benefits and its positive impact on safe bikers health, biking also helps you save on gas money.  (Well, unless you get a bad case of upgradeatitis, but that’s another story).

The report continues to say that most of the bike fatalities are adults.  Back in 1975, 21% of people who died biking were 20 years old and older.  In 2012, 84% of dead cyclists were adults.  Furthermore, more men are meeting their maker, at 74% of all fatalities.  Also, deaths in urban areas rose from 50% in 1975 to 69% in 2012.

This ties in with the major causes of cycling death, most cyclists die because they don’t use helmets or they had alcohol, according to the report.  While it is debatable if wearing a helmet prevents cycling death, the second should be pretty obvious.  So if drinking and driving don’t mix, alcohols and bikes are a cocktail that’s deadly.

States have mostly relied on education and enforcement, but apparently this isn’t working.  As the report points out, total physical separation of bikes and motor vehicles is preferable.  Not every driver is aware of the 1.5 yard (approximately 1.5 m) overtaking distance when passing a bike.  Where this is not workable, the report says “the goal is to reduce the time or distance in which bicyclists are exposed to risk via marked bike lanes, bicycle boulevards, separate bicycle traffic signals, and other techniques. These treatments can be supplemented by methods to slow motor vehicles down, and roadway lighting and warning signs to increase awareness of the presence of bicyclists.”  Take for example what is being done in Atlanta, Georgia.

Even with the depressed prices of oil, more and more people are taking up cycling.  What governments should do is twofold – “protecting cyclists from collisions with motor
vehicles, while encouraging cycling for its health and environmental benefits.”

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