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Alabama Cycling Safety: Fatalities Jump 9 Percent in One Year

May 1, 2013 - Birmingham, Personal Injury by

A new report reveals that 2011 was a dangerous year for cyclists.
Our Birmingham personal injury lawyers have learned that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has just released statistics revealing a nearly 10 percent spike in the number of pedalcyclists killed on U.S. roadways.

Pedalcyclists would include any rider of a non-motorized, two-wheeled vehicle, which could include unicycles and tricycles. Mostly though, we’re talking about bicyclists.

Although we’re looking at figures from 2011, comprehensive statistics were just released by the federal government and are the most recent available. The snapshot they provide is troubling.

That year, there were 48,000 cyclists injured in motor vehicle crashes.

Another 677 were killed. That is a marked increase from the 623 whose lives were lost the same way a year earlier.

Of course, the number of traffic crashes in the U.S. is astronomical, so bicycle injuries accounted for just 2 percent of those hurt in wrecks that year. It’s worth noting, though, that this percentage is higher than it’s ever been in the last decade.

This is a reversal of a downward trend that has been continuing since 2005-2006. In recent years, the number of bicyclist fatalities dropped from 786 down to 772, and then down to 701. In 2010, figures dropped to their lowest in 10 years. Now, we’re seeing a shift.

Although the researchers don’t attempt to explain why we might have been seeing this increase, we suspect part of it has to do with the fact that there are simply more bicyclists sharing the road these days. More often, people are using bicycling as a means to not only get exercise but as regular transportation, to get to and from classes or work or errands.

This is evidenced by the fact that the age of bicyclist accident victims has risen steadily since 2002. Back then, the average age of cyclist fatality was 36. By 2011, the average age was 43, with the highest proportion of those suffering fatalities being males between the ages of 45 and 54. Those suffering the highest number of injuries were males between the ages of 16 and 20.

Part of that may be a reflection of the fact that the younger the rider, the more resilient he may be to the impact of a crash.

Regardless of age, the most dangerous time for bicyclists to be on the road was between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. – right through rush hour. This is when 30 percent of all cyclist fatalities were reported. The second-highest time frame was between the hours of 8 p.m. and midnight.

The fewest were reported between midnight and 4 a.m. This is a somewhat different trend than what we see with motor vehicles, where the nighttime hours are without question the most deadly. Part of the reason bicyclist crashes may break from that trend is that there are simply fewer bicyclists – and motor vehicles – on the road during those hours.

However, there is evidence to suggest that bicycle crashes that do happen during those hours have the potential to be more deadly, as drivers are more likely to have been drinking and the lack of daylight may make it more difficult for bicyclists to be seen.

The NHTSA advises that motor vehicle drivers need to share the road with bicyclists, and be courteous by allowing at least three feet of clearance when passing one on the road. Always check for a bicyclist before opening your vehicle door while parked on the street or when pulling out of a parking space. Use extra caution to watch for cyclists during turns.

Additional Resources:

Bicyclists and Other Cyclists, 2011 Traffic Safety Facts, Released April 2013, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

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