More cyclists are on the road today than there were 10 years ago. Still, more are dying as a result of motor vehicle crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
The agency says 857 cyclists died in 2018, an increase of 6.3% over 2017. Even more alarming is the risk for female cyclists as the number of women killed while riding a bike soared by 29.2% last year, compared to 3.2% for men.
Taking action to reverse a disturbing trend
The American Community Survey shows a slight decrease in bike commuting for 2017. To avoid a downward trend, both the risks and perceived risks must be addressed. Some of the primary concerns include:
- Distracted drivers: While nearly all states have bans on texting while driving, a study found the laws have reduced traffic fatalities by only 3%. Experts say improved technology to keep people from texting while behind the wheel would be far more effective.
- Improved driver’s education: Curriculums should include more information regarding cyclist crashes, including “dooring” incidents. A few programs address this by advising drivers to open their doors with their right hand while parallel parked, so they move their heads and get a better view of traffic.
- Laws that protect cyclists: A League of American Bicyclists study found that in 600 cyclist deaths in 2014, only 12% of the drivers involved were punished. That may be explained by the lack of Vulnerable Road User (VRU) laws where drivers, cyclists, pedestrians and motorcyclists have equal protections.
- Better infrastructure: A 2019 University of Colorado study showed that protected bike lanes not only reduce crash rates for cyclists but also for drivers. Some cities see increased cycling opportunities as a way to attract workers and as an answer to parking, traffic and pollution issues.
- Hostile drivers: Be prepared to call the authorities if you are harassed and program nonemergency police and dispatch numbers into your phone. Try to provide as much information as possible, such as the make and model of the vehicle, license plate number, number of occupants and the direction they are headed.
Most of all, keep on riding
Some studies point to increased safety for cyclists when more of them are on the road. Data from a report published by Injury Prevention magazine found that injury rates dropped by one-third when the number of cycling trips doubled. Other research found benefits for residential areas, indicating drivers are more careful in communities with more cyclists.