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A recent report detailing a rise in the number of bicycle accidents resulting in death has safety experts concerned. Cycling has gained new popularity recently in light of the many benefits it offers. These benefits include improved health, less traffic congestion, decrease of toxic emissions and, in some cases, monetary incentives such as those offered by the Clean Air Campaign.
As more and more cyclists take to the road, the number of fatalities, which had been steadily declining since 1975, is now increasing. The increase of about 16 percent represents a rise from 680 deaths in 2011 to 722 fatalities in 2012. During the same period, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association report released on Monday, the number of other motor vehicle deaths only increased by about one percent.
Six states appear to lead the pack in terms of the number of bicycle fatalities. Bicycle deaths in New York, Michigan, Texas, Illinois, California, and Florida combined to comprise over 50 percent of the total number of deaths reported. California and Florida take the lead with the highest number of bicycle related deaths and the largest rise in the number of fatalities.
The report reveals that the number of adults, 21 and older, involved in fatal bicycle accidents has increased as well. This number rose to 84 percent in 2012 from 21 percent in 1975. The number of men involved in cycling deaths also increased, from 82 to 88 percent, during this period. Not surprisingly, the number of men killed in bicycle accidents represent almost three-quarters of the total number of deaths reported in 2012.
Alcohol impairment and not wearing helmets top the list of contributors when it comes to cycling deaths. Many of the cyclists killed in 2012, almost 65 percent, were not wearing helmets. While 21 states and the District of Columbia have laws requiring children to wear helmets and some localities mandate that everyone wear them, there are currently no state laws that require adults to wear helmets.
Though cycling is often associated with healthier lifestyles, alcohol is also a large contributor when it comes to cycling deaths. The study showed that almost 30 percent of bicycle accident victims had 0.08 percent or higher blood alcohol levels. In passenger vehicles, 33 percent of adults, 16 and older, had blood alcohol levels at 0.08 percent or more.
With cycling being so strongly encouraged, popularity is bound to increase. Safety advocates concerned about increasing fatalities recommend a number of preventative measures. Some measures require action on the part of cyclists and motor vehicle drivers and others are the responsibility of state and local jurisdictions.
Cyclists are advised to wear helmets. Both bicycle riders and passenger vehicle drivers should be aware of laws and regulations involving driving while impaired. It is also important for the bike rider to wear the appropriate clothing and apply reflective lights on bicycles so that the visibility of motor vehicle drivers is increased. Cyclists and motorists are also equally responsible for knowing the rules and following the traffic laws and ordinances related to sharing the road.
State and local municipalities can aid in the efforts to reduce bicycle related fatalities by creating bike lanes and placing signage to alert both drivers and cyclists of the need to share the road responsibly. They can also, ensure that laws and ordinances are routinely enforced, that drivers and motorists alike are held accountable for speeding and driving or cycling under the influence. While, it appears that cycling’s increased appeal could result in more bicycle deaths, there is hope that proactive, preventative safety measures could prevent the number from rising.
By Constance Spruill