Bicycling has become one of the healthiest, greenest, and hippest ways to get around or exercise — regardless of age. Bicycle sales only increased throughout the COVID-19 pandemic as people increasingly focused on their health and being outdoors. In fact, from April 2020 through April 2021, bicycle sales increased 57%. With all the benefits of people using bicycles more, there’s also been one drawback: accidental bicycle deaths.
In 2019 in particular, there was good and bad news in regards to accidental bicycle deaths; there was a 6% increase in preventable bicycle deaths. However, at the same time, preventable nonfatal injuries declined a whopping 40%. It isn’t shocking that accidental bicycle deaths are largely seasonal. In the summer, beginning in June and throughout September, the most accidental deaths occurred at 125 in August. To put that number in perspective, in January, that number was only 63. Regardless of the time of year, accidental bicycle deaths usually happen between 6-9 pm, when visibility is low and drivers and cyclists might be coming back from socializing. One in four deaths in 2019, indeed, involved a bicyclist who had been drinking alcohol. With impaired judgment and cyclists not always wearing helmets, as well as drivers who could be intoxicated, it’s the perfect storm.
Considering the car-centric culture of the United States, it isn’t surprising that in 2019, of 1,089 total accidental bicycle deaths nationwide, 712 were due to collisions with cars. 88% of all bicycle deaths were men. Obviously, it’s the responsibility of drivers and cyclists to share roads responsibly, especially since the majority of bicycle deaths are in urban environments. Yet, the overall landscape of the country can’t be totally discounted. Unlike famously bike friendly cities such as Amsterdam and Copenhagen, cities throughout the USA typically have limited bike lanes. In short, cities are built for cars and pedestrians. Bicycles are an afterthought.
Some of the best ways to tackle accidental bicycle deaths are to utilize all too rare “common sense.” Drivers should yield to bicyclists and when cyclists have the impression that drivers will not be yielding to them, move out of the way. Cyclists and drivers should also abide by many of the rules applicable to driving, ranging from behaving predictably and taking into account road conditions. With the advent of more cyclists on the road, it’s looking good for American investment in more bike lanes and heightened awareness of needless bicycle deaths. Here’s to a greener and healthier future.