Bicycle Crash Facts
The loss of 618 lives in bicycle/motor vehicle crashes in the U.S. in 2010 is a terrible toll. While lower than the 830 fatalities in 1995, bicycling crashes were on the rise just a few years ago. These numbers represent just under 2 percent of the total number of people killed in traffic crashes in 2010. The number of reported injuries involving bicyclists has followed a similar fluctuating but downward trend, from 61,000 in 1995 to 52,000 in 2010. However, we know from research into hospital records that only a fraction of bicycle crashes causing injury are ever recorded by the police, possibly as low as ten percent.
- Bicyclist Deaths in 1995: 830
- Bicyclist Deaths in 2010: 618 (NHTSA Traffic Safety Facts)
- Reduction in bicyclist deaths between 1995 and 2010: 25 percent
- Bicyclist Injuries in 1995: 61,000
- Bicyclist Injuries in 2010: 52,000 (NHTSA Traffic Safety Facts)
- Reduction in bicyclist injuries between 1995 and 2010: 16 percent
- The total cost of bicyclist injury and death is over $4 billion per year (National Safety Council).
The raw numbers hide all kinds of trends, truths, and lessons, and they beg a wide range of questions. Is bicycling dangerous? Is it more dangerous than other modes of travel? Is bicycling getting safer? Who is getting killed in bicycle crashes, where, when, and why? The following section seeks to answer some of these questions and provide a better perspective and context for the facts.
Is bicycling more dangerous than other modes of travel?
Obviously with 618 deaths per year, there are risks associated with riding a bicycle. Bicycle fatalities represent just fewer than two percent of all traffic fatalities, and yet bicycle trips account for one percent of all trips in the United States. However, bicycling remains a healthful, inherently safe activity for tens of millions of people every year.
As mentioned, bicyclists seem to be over-represented in the crash data as they account for almost two percent of fatalities but one percent of trips. However, there is no reliable source of exposure data to really answer this question: we don’t know how many miles bicyclists travel each year, and we don’t know how long it takes them to cover these miles (and thus how long they are exposed to motor vehicle traffic). Risk based on exposure varies by time of day (with night-time being more risky), experience of rider, location of riding, alcohol use, and many other factors. Until we have better exposure measures, we just don’t know how bicyclist risk compares to other modes, but the health benefits of riding may offset some of this risk.
Is bicycling getting safer?
A drop of 25 percent in fatalities since 1995 sounds hopeful at least — but without knowing how many people are riding, and how far they are riding, there’s no way of knowing whether the drop in crashes is because conditions are actually safer, or fewer people are bicycling, or they’re bicycling in different locations. For example, people may be riding more on paths and trails where crashes are not likely to be reported, and less on roadways including neighborhood streets, because they perceive roadway conditions to be much less safe.
In 1994, the US Department of Transportation adopted a policy of doubling the percentage of trips made by bicycling and walking while simultaneously reducing by ten percent the number of bicyclists and pedestrians injured in traffic crashes. The goals are to be pursued together—one cannot or should not be achieved at the expense of the other goal. Experience from many European countries suggests that increasing levels of bicycling can be done without increasing crash rates, and that strength in numbers can yield safety benefits.
Who is getting killed in bicycling crashes?
A detailed breakdown of the age, gender, and location of bicycle crash victims is available from The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Some of the more noteworthy trends and numbers are:
- In 2009 the average age of bicyclists killed in crashes with motor vehicles was 41 years, up from 32 years in 1998, and 24 in 1988.
- 87 percent of those killed were male.
- 64 percent of those killed were between the ages of 25 and 64; 13 percent of those killed in 2008 were under age 16, down from 30 percent of those killed in 1998.
- The average age of bicyclists injured in crashes with motor vehicles was 31 years, up from 24 years in 1998.
- 80 percent of those injured were male.
- 51 percent of those injured were between the ages of 25 and 64; 20 percent of those injured were under age 16.
For more bicyclist crash facts, link to the organizations and fact sheets listed below: