Pedaling in America isn’t as popular as in countries like The Netherlands
. In fact, National Geographic recently claimed only one percent
of total trips in the USA involve a bicycle.
Despite this relatively low figure, more Americans seem to be interested in giving bicycling a try. For instance, a 2020 survey published in CBS
found that 50 percent of adults would increase cycling after the COVID-19 pandemic. There are also increased opportunities for safe cycling thanks to initiatives like ride-share bicycles and car-free streets.
Although some cities are trying to become more bike-friendly, America remains a car-centric nation. For this reason, cyclists tend to face an outsized risk of fatalities and injuries. According to IIHS
, at least two percent of total traffic deaths in the USA involve a bicyclist. The NHTSA
also estimates there are roughly 850 cyclist fatalities per year.
While cyclist fatality rates seem to have fallen for young riders, adult cyclists face a greater risk of death and severe injury. In fact, the IIHS claims the number of bicyclists over 20 that died in traffic collisions went up three times between 1975 and 2019. Roughly 88 percent of all cyclist fatalities are adults. The CDC
also points out most cyclist fatalities involve people in the 50 – 59 age range.
Even if bicyclists survive an injury, there’s a high likelihood they will go to the Emergency Room. The Governors’ Highway Traffic Association
estimates there are at least 76,000 cyclist injuries per year, most of which require medical attention. The most common injuries in these cases are related to the neck, spine, and brain.
Anyone interested in picking up their pedaling schedule should first research a few science-backed safety measures. While not a requirement in all states, the following two suggestions have proven most effective at reducing the risk of cyclist fatalities.
How Could Cyclists Protect Themselves From Collisions? — Two Well-Researched Strategies
Find A Well-Fitting Helmet
Road safety experts always recommend bicyclists wear a well-fitting, DOT-approved helmet. According to organizations like the CDC
, helmets could dramatically reduce the risk of severe injuries and fatalities.
But just how much could helmets protect a cyclist’s life?
Well, one meta-analysis out of the University of New South Wales
suggests at least 70 percent. Researchers involved in this study examined traffic data from multiple studies with almost 65,000 bicyclists. The results from these collision reports suggest bicyclists who wore helmets had a 70 percent lower chance of sustaining severe head trauma. There was also a 65 percent reduction in fatal head injuries.
Multi-year traffic data
from NYC also suggests roughly 74 percent of all cyclist fatalities involve head trauma. Traffic authorities in America’s largest city say 97 percent of cyclists who died in crashes weren’t wearing helmets.
The University of Rochester School of Medicine
also agrees with these findings. According to URMC researchers, helmets reduce the risk of a traumatic brain injury by at least 85 percent.
While every US state has different helmet requirements, the IIHS
claims helmet laws may influence total fatality rates. For instance, IIHS analysts found that motorcyclist fatalities rose by 50 – 100 percent after states like Kentucky removed their strict helmet laws for adults. Granted, these policies tracked motorcyclist fatalities, but there may be a correlation with bicyclists.
Plus, a study out of the Consumer Product Safety Commission
argued that mandatory helmet laws improved helmet compliance. According to researchers, states with strict helmet laws saw an increase in helmet-wearers of at least 18.4 percent. Arguably, the more people who wear helmets, the less likely there will be cyclist fatalities.
Please remember that helmets aren’t a legal requirement in every US state. There’s also no federal law requiring bicyclists to wear helmets. Health experts strongly encourage bicyclists to wear well-fitting helmets, but residents need to examine their local ordinances for official legal guidance.
Increase Visibility When Cycling After Dusk
After wearing a helmet, the most studied safety recommendation for cyclists is to wear highly reflective clothing. The easier it is for drivers to see cyclists, the less likely there will be an accident on the roads—especially at night.
One report from the Queensland University of Technology
demonstrated how powerful a change of clothing could be. For this study, scientists asked participants to report whether they could see people at night in different wardrobes. Study authors found that the more reflective pads a person wore, the more likely someone else would see them.
For instance, 90 percent of participants could see the test subject who wore a reflective vest, ankle bracelets, and knee bands. However, that figure dropped to 50 percent for people who only wore a reflective vest. Fluorescent lights registered around 15 percent visibility, while a simple black wardrobe only scored 5 percent.
These findings are particularly significant considering most cyclist fatalities occur late in the day. Indeed, NHTSA data
strongly suggests most cyclist fatalities happen between 6 PM and 9 PM. The NHTSA also claims roughly 78 percent of fatal bicyclist crashes occur in city environments.
Like helmets, every state has unique laws surrounding reflective clothing and lights for cyclists. Some territories require cyclists to equip their bikes with reflector lights, while other states don’t have well-defined regulations. Whether reflective devices are required or not, officials strongly recommend cyclists wear them whenever they’re going for a ride.
Pedal Proactively — Using Cycling Safety Tips To Lower Crash Risks.
As more Americans get interested in cycling, urban planners may develop infrastructure that’s more “biker-friendly.” For instance, a few cities like Oakland
are already experimenting with select car-free streets (aka “Slow Streets Initiative”).
While these changes could help reduce cyclist fatalities, there are many things cyclists could already do to stay safe in their bike lanes. Most significantly, safety experts recommend wearing helmets and reflective clothing when going for a bike ride. While they may not seem like major changes, both of these tips have proven time and again to prevent cyclist injuries and fatalities.