How accurate is bicyclist injury and fatality information?

California ranks just behind Florida and just ahead of Texas for the most bicyclist fatalities in the country. Given the great weather and the number of residents and visitors here, that is hardly surprising.

Yet, both the injury and fatality statistics can be misleading. Hospital records reveal that most bicycle crashes go unreported by law enforcement agencies.

By the numbers

According to National Highway Transportation Safety Administration figures, there were 818 bicyclist fatalities in 2015 nationwide, which represents a 6 percent increase from 2006 when there were 772 deaths. Of those who died in 2015, 88 percent were male. Most of the fatalities, 71 percent, happened in urban areas. A National Survey on Bicyclist and Pedestrian Attitudes and Behaviors released in 2012 showed that a car-bike crash was the cause of almost a third of all injuries to riders.

Guesswork involved

One of the major problems with bicyclist injury information is that researchers do not know how many people are riding their bicycles at a given point in time and how far they go. There is no reliable source to show where a bicyclist is riding, what time of day it is and how long he or she is exposed to traffic, if at all. Consequently, researchers have to rely on estimates to some extent. The hospital records about injuries are telling because they do not match up with police records. Researchers believe that police reports concerning bicyclist injuries are extremely low; they may only reflect 10 percent of all the injuries that occur annually in the United States.

Finding fault

Bicycle accidents may happen because the rider hits a pothole in the road, avoids a dog or child who runs into the path of the bike, or because a mechanism fails, among many other causes. After a car-bicycle crash, the motorist often claims not to have seen the bicyclist. This is no excuse; people who ride bikes have the same roadway rights as people who drive cars, and a motorist is often the negligent party in the case. NHTSA data indicates that there were an estimated 45,000 bicyclist injuries in 2015. Even if it is not entirely accurate, it is wise to keep an injury statistic like this in mind because you do not want to become one yourself.

 

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