What’s Behind the Rise in Cyclist and Pedestrian Deaths?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is out with traffic fatality data for 2011, and the news is not good for cyclists, pedestrians or, for that matter, anyone who uses U.S. roadways.

Last year, 677 cyclists were killed in the United States -- an 8.7 percent increase over 2010. Photo: ##http://bikeportland.org/tag/ghost-bikes## Bike Portland##

While motor vehicle deaths declined to a still mind-numbing 32,000, cycling deaths were up 8.7 percent, and 3 percent more pedestrians were killed. The increase represented a break with recent trends, and folks all over the Streetsblog Network and the news media had different theories on the cause.

Wash Cycle dismissed the bump — which amounts to about 50 cyclists — as statistical “noise,” saying not much insight can be drawn from one-year’s data. Furthermore, the blog points out, the total number of cyclists killed, 677, still represents the fifth safest year in the last 30, thanks to recent downward trends.

Dan Allison at Getting Around Sacramento pounced on the L.A. Times’ suggestion that fewer cyclists wearing helmets was a factor in the increase:

A helmet is not designed for collisions with motor vehicles. They are only tested up to 12 mph, and even at those low speeds, they are not 100% effective. I believe that most of these fatalities would have occurred whether the bicyclists were wearing helmets or not … Helmets may be effective in reducing head injuries for bicyclist self-falls, though even that is open to question, but they have very little to do with crashes involving motor vehicles. This is just more of the “blame the bicyclist” view of roadway safety.

Since the federal government has not made a good faith effort to count the total number of cyclists and pedestrians on the road, Allison points out, it’s difficult to discern what the numbers mean for overall safety. “Fatality counts and injury counts are a mis-measure because they are affected by the rate of driving and a number of other factors, rather than the safety of driving,” Allison says.

Meanwhile, Wash Cycle carried a quote from Jonathan Adkins, of the Governors Highway Safety Association, who said the increase was likely due to more cyclists on roads and streets. The city of DC has seen cycling rates rise 175 percent since 2004, he said.

Jonathan Maus at Bike Portland said cycling deaths have been climbing in that region, but only by about half as much: 4.4 percent.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Bike Portland reports the local school district’s bicycling rate has surpassed 10 percent for the first time ever. Mobilizing the Region says young people who want less car-centric lifestyles are helping fuel a rise in multi-family housing. And M-bike.org notes that, contrary to frequent accusations of recklessness, Michigan cyclists have been responsible for a total of zero deaths to pedestrians or motorists in the last eight years.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

It’s Official: 33,561 People Killed in Traffic on American Streets Last Year

|
The official 2012 death toll is out for our nation’s poorly-designed, auto-centric transportation system. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, traffic injuries on the nation’s roadways claimed the lives of 33,561 people. The headline of the agency’s press release, “NHTSA Data Confirms Traffic Fatalities Increased In 2012,” is quickly walked back by the subhed, […]

Federal Report: Bad Street Design a Factor in Rising Ped/Bike Fatalities

|
A new report from the non-partisan Government Accountability Office [PDF] examines why people walking or biking account for a rising share of traffic deaths in the United States. While the conclusions aren’t exactly earth-shattering, one culprit the GAO identified is street design practices that seek primarily to move cars. The investigation was ordered by U.S. representatives Rick Larsen (Washington State), […]

U.S. Traffic Fatalities Rising Fast — Especially Pedestrian and Cyclist Deaths

|
Traffic fatalities in America hit a seven-year high in 2015, with pedestrians and cyclists accounting for a disproportionate share of the alarming increase, according to preliminary data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Last year, 35,200 people were killed in traffic — a 7.7 percent increase over 2014 and the worst death toll since 2008. The number of people killed while […]

America’s Progress on Street Safety Is Pathetic

|
A new report from the International Transport Forum shows America is only falling farther behind all of its peer nations on street safety [PDF]. The traffic fatality rate in the United States (10.7 per 100,000 people) is nearly four times higher than in the United Kingdom (2.8 per 100,000) and close to double that of […]