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Bicycle Accident Deaths Increasing, Often Involving Alcohol or Lack of Helmets: Report

A new study indicates that a growing number of bicyclist deaths are occurring as a result of accidents with automobiles, many involving injuries that occurred among riders who were not wearing helmets or who had consumed alcohol before biking.

According to a Spotlight on Highway Safety report issued by the Governors Highway Safety Association, bicycle deaths following vehicle collisions increased 16% between 2010 to 2012.

Bicycling has risen in popularity in recent years, and the data from this report suggest that deaths are also climbing. Biking deaths involving motor vehicles in the United States rose from 621 in 2010, to 680 in 2011 to 722 in 2012.

The report was compiled using data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System.

Dr. Allan Williams, lead author of the study, indicated that the increase is mostly attributable to the decrease in adults wearing safety helmets and an increase in alcohol prior to bicycling.

In 2012, only 17% of the bicyclists killed were wearing helmets and two-thirds of fatally injured bicyclists were not wearing a helmet. Three-quarters of the people killed were adult men riding without helmets. In addition, 28% of people killed were 16 and older and had blood-alcohol levels above the legal limit.

Six states, California, Florida, New York, Illinois, Michigan and Texas, accounted for 54% of the bicycle deaths involved with motor vehicles, California and Florida had the highest rates.

Twenty-three other states averaged five or fewer deaths per year from 2010 to 2012.

Despite the increase in deaths, bicycle accidents with motor vehicles still remains the lowest since 1975, when more than 1,000 cyclists died the first year the data was compiled. Other motor vehicle fatalities increased one percent during the same time.

More Adults Now Cycling

In 1975, 21% of bicyclist deaths involved in car accidents were adults. By 2012, this number increased to 84%. Previously, the majority of bicyclists killed were children.

More adults are cycling, many because of health and environmental reasons. While 21 states have helmet laws for children, no U.S. states require helmets for adults.

The increase in adults bicycling has been mostly seen in urban areas.

Every year since 1975, bike deaths have comprised two percent of all motor vehicle deaths nationwide.

In addition to urging cyclists to wear helmets and ride sober, the study’s authors warn that drivers need to pay more attention to bicyclists out on the road to avoid fatal accidents and serious injuries. They encourage bicyclists to obey traffic laws and be alert when riding on roads with drivers. They also advocate for total separation of bicycle lanes from vehicle roads.

The Governors Highway Safety Association is a nonprofit organization representing the state and highway safety offices. The GHSA implements programs assessing behavioral highways safety issues to improve traffic safety, influence national policy, enhance program management and promote best practices.

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