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Study: Bicycle fatality rate outpacing overall traffic fatalities

A new report by the Governors Highway Safety Association and funded by State Farm insurance reveals an alarming trend. The 2015 fatality rate among bicyclists rose by 12.2 percent over the previous year, and the rate outpaced the overall traffic fatality rate that year. Moreover, the average age of those killed in traffic collisions that year was 45.

"More of us are getting out and riding our bikes, and that's great," said the GHSA's executive director, "but we're seeing [cycling] deaths go up by about 55 deaths per year."

It's a healthy trend that people are riding bikes more often, but it's tragic that this trend has led to more fatalities among cyclists. Even more tragic, many biking accidents are hit-and run. That makes estimating the total number of accidents more difficult.

Overall, according to the safety organization, there were an estimated 45,000 bikers injured in traffic accidents in 2015, but only a fraction of those are recorded by police. The simple reason is that there is no need for a vehicle to be towed, so there is no police report.

Interestingly, the majority of fatal bike accidents studied by the safety organization -- 72 percent -- occurred in mid-roadway rather than at intersections. It has typically been assumed that intersections were far deadlier to bicyclists because drivers often fail to look both directions before pulling into an intersection. The cause behind so many mid-road accidents will require further study.

Other interesting facts revealed by the study:

  • Over half of bikers involved in fatal accidents were not wearing helmets.
  • Although only about 20 percent of bike trips occur after dark, biking fatalities were evenly split between daylight and evening hours. (47 percent each)
  • The number of children biking to school on a regular basis has dropped from nearly 50 percent in 1969 to merely 2.2 percent in 2015.
  • The study considered 55 cities where bike-share programs have been established and found that good biking infrastructure development is lagging behind. These systems have about 42,000 bikes on the road.
  • Since the programs began in 2010, there have been only two fatal biking accidents recorded involving bike-sharing cycles.

The GHSA, a coalition of state patrol and roadway officers, said that every state should have a cycling safety program in its overall highway safety plan. It commended Congress for requiring that states "fully integrate nonmotorized accommodation in all surface transportation projects," but criticized it for restricting federal highway funds from being used for bike-related projects.

We all need to do more to cut down on serious and fatal bicycle accidents. Please keep a sharp eye out and drive safely.

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