The Journal Gazette
Sunday, May 05, 2019 1:00 am

Cyclists face dangers on roadways

Rachel Blakeman | For The Journal Gazette

While bicycling offers many health and recreational benefits, it does not come without risk.

The U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration does an annual review of “pedalcyclist” fatalities, which is informative about understanding bicycling risks and protecting against those dangers.

The most recent NHTSA data is from 2016, released in May 2018.

Total number of fatalities: In the United States, 840 cyclists were killed in crashes with motor vehicles on public roadways in 2016. This number does not include accidents that happened on private property like parking lots. These deaths accounted for 2.2% of all motor vehicle traffic fatalities. The share of cyclist deaths of all traffic fatalities went up from 2007 to 2016, while the total from all vehicles went down.

Indiana had 19 fatalities, accounting for 2.3% of the state's motor vehicle accident deaths. Two states – Hawaii and South Dakota – had no cyclist deaths. Only three states had more than 50: California at 147, Florida (138), and Texas (65).

NHTSA also tabulates fatalities for cities with a population greater than 500,000, which does not include Fort Wayne.

Statistically speaking, Jacksonville, Florida, and Portland, Oregon, were the two riskiest cities for cyclist deaths at 7.95 and 7.81 deaths per million people, respectively. Indianapolis took the third spot with a fatality rate of 7.02. The Circle City's six cyclist fatalities made up 6.3% of the total traffic fatalities. No cycling crash deaths were reported in Boston; Dallas; El Paso, Texas; and Fresno, California.

Gender disparity: A significant gender disparity appeared between males and females.

The fatality rate for males was more than 51/2 times the rate of females – 4.43 per million compared to 0.79. Males accounted for 84% of the deaths.

Age: The average age of cyclists killed went from 40 in 2007 to 46 in 2016.

The cyclists ages 60-64 had the highest fatality rate at 4.72 per million people. Separating by gender, men ages 55 to 59 had the highest fatality rate of 8.42 per million, compared to women's highest rate at 1.38 per million for the 60-64 bracket. Children under the age of 15 accounted for 7% of these fatalities.

Crash locations: Most fatal crashes took place in an urban area versus rural locations at 71% compared to 29%, respectively. Intersections were the site of 30% of crashes with a cyclist death; 58% were in other sections of roadway. Deaths in a bike lane accounted for 4% and 6% were at the roadside or shoulder.

The front of the vehicle was the initial point of contact for the vast majority at 78.1%. Cyclists only hit the rear of the vehicle first in 1.5% of fatal crashes.

Vehicle type: Data showed 95% of these fatalities were single-vehicle crashes. Light trucks – pick-ups, SUVs and vans – accounted for 42% at 334 out of 800 vehicles. Just under 300 passenger cars and 97 large trucks or buses were the vehicle. An unknown or other vehicle was cited in 9% of the crashes.

Time of day, season: Just over half of cyclists died in a daylight crash while 45% involved a crash in the dark. The remaining 5% occurred during dawn or dusk conditions.

Using three-hour windows, the 6 to 9 p.m. time slot was the most dangerous period, accounting for 30% of crashes in the winter and 19% for summer and fall.

Alcohol use: Alcohol use was more common for cyclists than drivers.

Blood alcohol concentration of 0.08% or greater was present for 21% of those on a pedalcycle, which includes unicycles and tricycles.

Among drivers, it was 11% at that level. Accidents with drivers and cyclists with a BAC of 0.08% or above occurred in 3% of crashes. Riders ages 45-54 had the highest share with 0.08 or above BAC at 31%.

Helmet use: Unfortunately, the NHTSA analysis does not include information about cyclists' use of helmets.

Rachel Blakeman is an attorney and the director of the Community Research Institute at Purdue University Fort Wayne.

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