Bicycle Safety: The More You Know
Safety is a number one concern for cyclists everywhere.
And it doesn't make things easier that the general attitude is that
it is your responsibility as a cyclist to make yourself seen and safe.
Without proper bike infrastructure on the majority of our roads, feeling small and vulnerable when you are sharing the road with countless cars and trucks zooming past is just part of the daily commute. As a bicycle light company, we felt it was important to delve into the facts about the dangers of cycling so we can understand the leading causes of traffic accidents.
Many crashes do not get reported properly or thoroughly, if
reported at all. Most data reflects accidents where cyclist
fatality occurs. There is not a lot of info on the much more
common case of accidents resulting in mild to severe injuries.
Sometimes, different studies show conflicting data. And there
is no perfect science behind adjusting for variables.
For Example: Men appear to be victims more often, but is this
due to larger volume of male riders or does it say something
about the way they are riding?
Questions for a Pro:
Ken McLeod of the League of American Bicyclists co-authored a comprehensive report on cyclist collisions
after reviewing copious amounts of research and data collected on impact incidents for the Every Bicycle Counts report.
We asked him to lend his expertise and answer a few questions.
From your research and experience, why do most cyclist/motorist collisions happen?
The majority of collisions happen at intersections, but the majority of fatal collisions happen when a motorist hits a bicyclist from behind.
What are the best precautions a cyclist can take?
There are many different precautions that a bicyclist can take and the best precaution is the one that solves the most important safety issue for that bicyclist. Some of the best precautions can be:
- Improved route choice – if possible, manage your exposure to high speed traffic and difficult intersections
- Defensive bicycling practices – ride slower, position yourself in the center of a lane when appropriate, be aware of your surroundings, and follow traffic laws
- Lighting to make yourself more visible
- Make sure your bike is in good condition – especially brakes and tires
How important is side lighting in preventing side crashes?
Side lighting can be an important part of preventing side crashes. In low light circumstances it is helpful for bicyclists to have conspicuous lighting and/or reflectivity. Often moving lights or reflectivity improve the visibility of a bicyclist (although research is mixed on flashing lights). The sooner a driver can see you the sooner the driver can react to you and prevent a crash.
Will lighting help in the day time?
Lighting can help in the day time. There is not a lot of research on the subject, but some research suggests that permanent lighting can reduce the incident of collisions by 19%
Does the time of day make a difference?
The time of day does make a difference. According to NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), the third highest specified factor in bicyclist fatalities is that the bicyclist was not visible. While we do not know how many people are biking at a particular time of day, NHTSA data shows that roughly 28% of bicyclist fatalities occur between 6pm and 9pm.
What are some ways to raise motorist awareness on the road?
Bicyclists can take individual action to make motorists aware by using lights and bells. Bicyclists can also take collective action by becoming involved with local, state, and/or national advocacy so that infrastructure is improved in ways that make bicycling safer. Bicycle infrastructure, particularly bike lanes and protected bike lanes, creates awareness and clear expectations for all road users.
Is it important to record crash data?
It is important to record crash data. Bicyclists should report crashes to their local government to make local planners and engineers aware of dangerous conditions and make police aware of dangerous behavior.
What We Learned:
The highest instance of cyclist fatality in a collision occurs when the cyclist is rear ended.
Cyclist side/car front makes up the second leading cause of fatality and the third is cited as a "T-hit." The differences between "cyclist side/car front" and "T-hit" are unclear but it is possible they could be grouped together.
Unfortunately, "unknown" collision type makes up nearly as many instances as the rear ended cyclist. This reflects the need for more thorough accident reporting.
One study indicates that a collision involving cyclist side/car front, while not being the number one cause of fatality, is the leading crash situation. It also appears that most situations involve the car hitting the cyclist or pedestrian with the front of the car.
6PM to 9PM is the window of time when most accidents occur. This is consistent in different studies.
- Getting involved with local bicycle advocacy groups may help improve bike infrastructure in your area.
- Taking precautions to make yourself more visible can reduce the risk of collision.