Bike Fatalities Are On The Rise
Kaiser Health News
Phillip Reese | 1/30/2020, 11:29 a.m.
Alongside the surging popularity of bike shares and fitness cycling in California comes a
sobering statistic: From 2016 through 2018, more cyclists died in traffic accidents across the
state than during any three-year period in the past 25 years.
Traffic accidents killed 455 cyclists in California from 2016 through 2018, according to new
data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The figures translate to
about 3.9 bike accident fatalities per million people, the highest rate over any three-year
period since the mid-1990s, before many cities built extensive bike networks.
Nationwide, the fatal accident rate was lower, but also on the rise. From 2016 through 2018,
2,516 cyclists died in traffic accidents, a rate of about 2.6 per million people. That was the
highest three-year death rate since the mid-2000s.
Experts point to a convergence of factors for the upsurge: a sustained rise in how much
Americans are driving , the prevalence of distracted driving and a pronounced consumer
shift toward big trucks and sport utility vehicles . Some analysts also said there are simply
more bikes on the road.
“There’s definitely been an increase in popularity of cycling,” said Julia Griswold, a
researcher at the University of California-Berkeley’s Safe Transportation Research and
Education Center. “And then also since the economy has recovered from the 2008 crash,
there’s been an increase in driving.”
With the unemployment rate near historic lows, more people are commuting to work,
intensifying the mix of cars and bikes on city roadways. Bike-share programs are now
common in many cities. At the same time, the advent of car ride-hailing services has led to
more drivers cruising around waiting for their next pickup.
“The more people are driving, the higher the probability of an incident,” said Jennifer
Boldry, director of research at PeopleForBikes, a national nonprofit that advocates for
greater bike access and safety.
Exacerbating the risks: Smartphones are ubiquitous in much of America, and thousands of
people die each year in accidents caused by distracted driving. Boldry cited a recent study by
the National Transportation Safety Board showing that “midblock” collisions — wrecks in
areas between intersections, where speeds are higher — tend to cause greater injury to
cyclists. Often, drivers involved in those sorts of wrecks say they didn’t see the cyclist they
“My conclusion from that is: It’s really tough to see someone if you’re looking at your
phone,” Boldry said.
In addition, bigger autos like SUVs often have larger blind spots than those of smaller cars,
making it more difficult to see a cyclist. They also sit higher, which can affect the area of
impact. “Think about where an SUV hits you on a bike versus where a very low-riding sedan
might hit you,” Boldry said. “You get hit in the leg, the injury is way less severe than if you’re
hit in the chest.”
As with other types of fatal accidents involving cars, male cyclists in America die in crashes
much more often than women. From 2016 through 2018 in California, almost eight men