California leads nation in fatal bicycle crashes with vehicles

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LOS ANGELES – If you are going to be killed by a car while riding a bicycle, there’s a good chance you are a man, older than 20 and living in California or Florida.

That’s the finding of a report issued Monday by the Governors Highway Safety Assn. that also noted that between 2010 and 2012, U.S. bicyclist deaths increased by 16%.

California, with 338 cyclists killed in collisions with motor vehicles, and Florida, with 329, had the highest totals during that period, the report said.

They also had the largest increases in annual cyclist traffic fatalities from 2010 to 2012. Florida’s deaths rose by 37 to 120 in 2012 while cyclist traffic fatalities in California rose by 23 to 123. California had the most bicyclists killed of any state in 2012.

Nationally, cyclist traffic deaths jumped from 621 in 2010 to 680 in 2011 and 722 in 2012. The 16% increase was far greater than other motor vehicle fatalities, which rose by just 1% during this same time period.

Bicyclist deaths account for about 2% of deaths involving motor vehicles nationwide. But they account for about 5% in Florida and a little more than 4% in California.

Just six states, California, Florida, Illinois, New York, Michigan and Texas, accounted for 54% of all cycling traffic  fatalities from 2010 through 2012.

Allan Williams, formerly the top scientist at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, analyzed fatality data to uncover bicyclist crash patterns and compile the report.

He noted there have been “remarkable changes” in who is dying in crashes involving bicycles and cars. For example, adults age 20 and older represented 84% of bicyclist fatalities in 2012, compared with just 21% in 1975. Adult males comprised 74% of the total number of bicyclists killed in 2012.

The lack of helmet use and alcohol impairment continue to contribute to bicyclist deaths, he said.

In 2012, two-thirds or more of fatally injured bicyclists were not wearing helmets, and 28% of riders age 16 and older had blood alcohol concentrations of .08% or higher, the level at which someone is considered impaired.

“What’s notable here,” Williams said, “is that the percentage of fatally injured bicyclists with high BACs has remained relatively constant since the early 1980s and did not mirror the sharp drop in alcohol-impaired driving that occurred among passenger vehicle drivers in the 1980s and early 1990s.”

Despite the recent increases in cycling deaths, the total is still below the 1,003 fatalities that occurred in 1975, when researchers started tracking the data.

The report did not say why bicyclist deaths have increased in recent years. Williams said there were mixed data on whether cycling is increasing in the U.S., although he did say there is some evidence that suggests there are more bicycle commuters than in previous years. That could be resulting in more exposure of cyclists to urban auto traffic.

The report observed that “roads were built to accommodate motor vehicles with little concern for pedestrians and bicyclists. Integrating motor vehicles and bicycles in already-built environments presents challenges.”

It said cyclists are safest with a physical separation of bicycles and motor vehicles by providing “cycle paths.” But it noted that such separated paths “are rarely feasible.”
In their absence, states and cities should consider:

  • Building more marked bike lanes.
  • Bicycle boulevards that travel through a network of traffic-calmed roads that parallel urban arterials.
  • Using bike boxes – a space in a lane before an intersection solely for bikes – that provide bicycle visibility and protection against cars turning right across the bike’s path. So called “right hooks” where cars turn right into the path of a bicycle that has the right of way are one of the most common car-bicycle crashes.
  • Build separate bicycle traffic signals with advance green lights for cyclists.


    • billdsd

      Bicyclists are no worse about obeying the law than motorists. Obeying the law helps bicyclists avoid collisions that would be their fault but over half of collisions between bicycles and cars tend to be primarily the fault of the motorist. It would help a lot if motorists would obey the law as well. Bicyclists can help defend themselves against bad drivers by employing defensive bicycle driving techniques. The San Diego County Bicycle Coalition offers free classes in Oceanside. Class includes free food.

      Sign up for the “Bicycle Traffic Skills Course” here:

  • billdsd

    The report is pure lying with statistics.

    As for California being in the lead, it’s by far the most populous state. In raw numbers, it makes sense that it would have the most of almost everything. It has almost twice as many people as Florida, which is the 4th most populous state. When you look at it per capita, California’s roads are much safer than Florida’s.

    5 of those 6 states listed at the top 5 states in the U.S. for population. Michigan is 9th in population. Those 6 states make up over 40% of the U.S. population and California, Texas and Florida tend to have good weather for bicycling all year round.

  • billdsd

    “Building more marked bike lanes” – This sentence sounds weird to me. It’s stated as if there’s such a thing as an unmarked bike lane. There is no such thing. Under California Streets and Highways Code 891, bike lanes have to meet or exceed minimum standards specified by the California Department of Transportation which they put in the California Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices Part 9 and that requires them to be marked as bike lanes and meet a number of other criteria.

    Bike boxes are of no real use. Bicyclists who know what they are doing move out into the middle of the travel lane when approaching any place were a right turn is authorized in order to avoid being right hooked. This is explicitly permitted in the law by CVC 21202(a)(4) and 21208(a)(4) and has been since 1996 when those were added to the law. It was implicitly allowed by CVC 21202(a)(3) before that. When I do this, I usually queue up behind the cars at traffic lights. The bike box encourages bicyclists to skip ahead at red lights and move out in front of the cars. It also tends to not encourage them to move out unless the light is red. The risk of being right hooked is higher when the light is green. The bike box sets up a late and potentially unpredictable move and it’s basically cutting in front of the line at red lights. It’s a band-aid on a problem that was caused by having a far right rule and a mandatory bike lane use rule. It’s better to avoid having the problem in the first place than to try to make it increasingly complicated.

    If you want to be safer while riding in traffic, then sign up for the free “Bicycle Traffic Skills Course” offered by the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition. Knowing how to drive your bicycle defensively will make you safer than any of these facilities except maybe bike boulevards.

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