New (Nationwide) Report out on Bicycle Safety – Accidents up, accident rate down

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Most alarming news: The report said exposure data (how growing bike travel exposes more bicyclists to potential accidents) provided mixed evidence. Either way, the 16 percent jump in bicycling fatalities outpaced the 1 percent increase in all other motor vehicle deaths during the same three-year period.


Here’s the news release, and link to the full report

GHSA News Release

October 27, 2014

Contact: Amadie Hart,,
703-626-6679, or
Jonathan Adkins, 202-789-0942 x130

Bicyclist Fatalities a Growing Problem for Key Groups

Adult Males and Urban Environments Now Represent Bulk of Deaths

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The number of bicyclists killed on U.S. roadways is trending upward, particularly for certain subsets of the population, according to a report released today by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA). GHSA’s Spotlight on Highway Safety: Bicyclist Safety notes that yearly bicyclist deaths increased 16 percent between 2010 and 2012, while overall motor vehicle fatalities increased just one percent during the same time period.

The report’s author, former Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Chief Scientist Dr. Allan Williams, analyzed current and historical fatality data to uncover bicyclist crash patterns. There have been some remarkable changes. For example, adults 20 and older represented 84 percent of bicyclist fatalities in 2012, compared to only 21 percent in 1975. Adult males comprised 74 percent of the total number of bicyclists killed in 2012.

Bicycle fatalities are increasingly an urban phenomenon, accounting for 69 percent of all bicycle fatalities in 2012, compared with 50 percent in 1975. These changes correlate with an increase in bicycling commuters – a 62 percent jump since 2000, according to 2013 Census Bureau data.

While bicyclists killed in motor vehicle crashes increased in 22 states between 2010 and 2012, six states – California, Florida, Illinois, New York, Michigan and Texas – represented 54 percent of all fatalities.

“These are high population states with many urban centers,” pointed out Williams, “and likely reflect a high level of bicycle exposure and interaction with motor vehicles.”

There are some bicycle fatality data that remain unchanged over the decades. Bicyclists killed are predominantly males (88 percent in 2012), and lack of helmet use and alcohol impairment continue to contribute to bicyclist deaths. In 2012, two-thirds or more of fatally injured bicyclists were not wearing helmets, and 28 percent of riders age 16 and older had blood alcohol concentrations (BAC) of .08 percent or higher, compared with 33 percent of fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers.

“What’s notable here,” said Dr. Williams, “is that the percentage of fatally injured bicyclists with high BACs has remained relatively constant since the early 1980s and did not mirror the sharp drop in alcohol-impaired driving that occurred among passenger vehicle drivers in the 1980s and early 1990s.”

State Highway Safety Offices are giving bicyclist safety considerable attention, despite bicyclists representing two percent of overall motor vehicle-related fatalities, a proportion that has remained constant since 1975.

“Many states are dedicating resources to ensuring the safety of all roadway users, including bicyclists, by investing in educating bicyclists and motorists, promoting helmet use, enforcing motor vehicle laws and implementing infrastructure changes,” said Jonathan Adkins, GHSA Executive Director.

As an example, the New York Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee promotes helmet use by funding bicycle helmet distribution programs and proper fit training. In Florida, police officers are stopping bicyclists who ride without lights at night, providing lights to those who are less able to afford them and helping to affix them to bikes.

Adkins stressed that helmet laws are an effective countermeasure particularly with so many inexperienced riders expected to choose bicycling in the coming years. Twenty-one states have helmet laws for younger riders, but no state has a universal helmet law and twenty-nine states do not have any kind of bicycle helmet law.

On the engineering side, several states are adopting Complete Streets policies, which take into consideration all travel modes when building and/or improving existing roadway systems. They are also stepping up efforts to collect information on bicycle crash patterns and locations, which is critical for making informed decisions about countermeasures and resource allocation.

Adkins noted that while bicyclist fatalities are a problem in some states, unlike many highway safety challenges, this is not necessarily a national issue. Twenty-three states averaged five or fewer deaths per year between 2010 and 2012. This suggests a need to focus resources on those states and locations where bicyclist fatalities most often occur.

The full report is available at


The 16% rise is an absolute count, not a rate. I’m looking at numbers from LAB which show an increase of 9.6% in bike commuting in the US from 2011 to 2012 (which is the most recent data I can find). So even though the 16% increase is bad, it represents a very small increase in deaths per capita.
Correction: I see the 16% increase is from 2010 to 2012 — two years. Their report shows the increase from 2011 to 2012 is 6.2%, in other words a REDUCTION in per capita death rate.
I’m guessing that’s a less exciting headline, though.
Bugging me more and more — the headline should have read “Bike Usage Up, Bike Death Rate Continues Steady Decline.”


I put little credence in broad-brush statistics like this. I would more value studies into the cause of serious-injury and fatal crashes, without regard to their rate. Based on other conversations we’ve had on here, it isn’t lack of helmets that is getting cyclists killed, but rather uneducated drivers and cyclists alike, poor infrastructure, and speeding.

Fix those things and the numbers will go down.


A comprehensive approach would help, maybe Pittsburgh can get on board:


Jon stated, “Bugging me more and more — the headline should have read “Bike Usage Up, Bike Death Rate Continues Steady Decline.”

Thanks for posting this. It is sad how the media reports garbage all the time. I also don’t like them shouting about helmet use as if a 4,000 lbs car plowing into a cyclists will be helped greatly by some helmet. I doubt it. Some of the safest places statistically in the world have about no helmet use at all.

Anyway, seems things are slowly getting better thanks to real statistics. Certainly there is one heck of a lot of room for improvement.

buffalo buffalo

This is an atrocious report, but to be expected I suppose from an org whose major sponsors seem to be mostly auto manufacturers and insurance companies:

Bike Portland and Biking in LA both had pretty good responses:


This article is also critical of GHSA’s analysis.

excerpt: But to understand bicycle safety, it is not enough to simply look at the number of fatalities. The level of bicycling in an area must also be taken into account to determine what the risk is. That’s why, in our biennial Benchmarking Report, we pay closer attention to fatality rate.


I noticed, BTW, that in the Diane Rehm show the first time the study was brought up, it was pointed out that the report was about an absolute number, not a rate. But that didn’t make it into the blurb on the website, unfortunately.
As they say, a lie can make it halfway through a brevet while truth is still pumping up its tires.

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