Each year in the United States, tens of thousands of people are seriously injured in bicycle accidents and hundreds more are killed. According to BicyclingInfo.com, 677 people were killed in bicycle accidents with motor vehicles in 2011. With May being celebrated as National Bike Month throughout the U.S., it is important that riders prepare themselves to be safe as the summer approaches and bicycling becomes even more popular on American roadways.
Deaths from Bicycle Accidents Declining
Bicycle accident fatalities began taking a steady decline back in 1995, when there were an estimated 830 people who died as a result of a bike collision. Especially in Seattle, bicycle accidents seem to be all too common and the injuries that often result can be devastating to any rider.
But the stigma that bicycling is a significantly more dangerous mode of travel, at least statistically speaking, is a bit misleading. In fact, bicycle accident fatalities represent only an estimated two percent of all traffic-related deaths each year in the U.S. What is also promising is that the number of those deaths has been declining steadily over the years, and there has been nearly a 20 percent decrease in fatalities from bicycle accidents since 1995.
In the event of a collision, however, bicyclists face a much higher risk of personal injury and death because they are not protected by the physical safety features (i.e. doors, airbags, etc.) of a standard motor vehicle. In this sense, bicyclists have a significantly higher risk of suffering serious injuries in an accident than other motorists.
Is Bicycling Getting Safer?
The problem with long-term statistical trends such as the decline in deaths and injuries from bicycle accidents is that it’s hard to track what exactly has been successful and what has not. Rather, experts look at a number of combined efforts and see that the overall plan is working to make the roads safer.
For example, Washington state’s bicycle infrastructure has improved drastically since 1995. The fact that bicyclists now have bike trails and individual bicycle lanes at their disposal helps them avoid using busy streets, which has likely been a major contributing factor to the number of deaths and injuries from bicycle accidents.
But education and awareness have also been major areas of focus over the past couple of decades, with a constantly increasing emphasis on rider education and the utilization of safety gear. All of which suggests that a balanced approach to bicycle safety that addresses multiple risk factors is primarily responsible for the almost 20 percent decrease in bicycle accident deaths since 1995.
In 1994 – the year before deaths from bicycle collisions began their dramatic decline, as coincidental as that may be – the U.S. Department of Transportation set the goal of doubling the percentage of trips made by bicyclists and pedestrians while reducing injuries from pedestrian and bicycle accidents by 10 percent. In reference to initiatives put forth by several European countries, experts noted that both of these goals could be successfully achieved with proper infrastructure and allocation of other resources.
With such a dramatic increase in the number of bicyclists nation-wide, the focus of improving rider safety and preventing injuries and deaths from bicycle accidents is becoming even more important. Hopefully, it doesn’t take another 20 years to make such a significant impact on the number of devastating accidents in our country.