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How Safe Is It to Cycle?

So far, 2020 has been a difficult year for the local cycling community. A wave of fatal bicycle crashes including two hit and run crashes has startled the community. For many, it’s very emotional. News spreads quickly on social media and discussions that question everything that happened quickly turn to the safety of cycling and the sanity of those that ride. On one hand, most of this is healthy. A way for the community to talk through it and, in some cases, it’s even a catalyst that gets people involved in local cycling advocacy. But on the other hand, if you’re new to cycling, all of this can be alarming.

The recent crashes, and resulting deaths, are tragic to say the least. But when deciding whether cycling is safe for you, I feel it’s important to look at the overall risk presented by a larger sampling of crash data versus the perceived risk that you may feel if you’re following along social media. It can seem hopeless. By sharing this I hope I can help you better understand the risk, put it in perspective and at the same time, give you some ideas on how we can mitigate it while riding.

Understanding the stats.

It’s important to understand that bicycle crash reporting is inconsistent and so is the resulting data. Poorly written crash reports, un-reported crashes, and a lack of standardized reporting are just a few of the reasons why statistics can be misleading and sometimes reported in a way that is alarming. For example, it’s been reported that 40% of bicycle fatalities are the result of rear end collisions. That’s a frightening statistic unless you understand that being hit from behind is not very common. This stat only looked at collision types where fatalities occurred. But when we look at the collision types for all crashes, being hit from behind is one of the least likely types. This is true even if we look at the recent hit and run crashes. They account for 50% of the serious or fatal crashes in our area so far this year. But over the last 5 years in NC, they only represent 15% of overall bicycle/car crashes. It’s a completely different conversation to be had about anyone that could leave the scene of a crash, but for the purposes of this article, most drivers do stop and help when a crash happens.

We might be our own worst enemy.

In 2013, the National Highway Transportation Safety Authority (NHTSA) reported the six most common injury causes for cyclists. Only 29% of respondents that had been injured riding a bicycle reported that their injury was the result of being hit by a car compared to 54% that reported cyclists’ error or other causes responsible for their crashes. The reality is, we are crashing with potholes, curbs, dogs and other cyclists more than we are with cars.

Perspective is important.

Based on “Odds of Death” published by the National Safety Council in 2017, the odds of getting killed while cycling were 1 in 4,047. Here are four other things that are more dangerous for you than cycling.

  • Heart Disease – 1 in 6
  • Car Crash – 1 in 103
  • Drowning – 1 in 1,117
  • Choking on Food – 1 in 2,696

In fact, you’re more likely to get killed walking down the street, 1 in 556, then you are to be killed while riding a bicycle. The reality is that while cycling involves risk, so do many other everyday things we do like driving a car or enjoying a nice meal with friends.

Mitigating the risk.

With the data we do have, we can better understand how to keep cycling safe. By knowing when and where crashes are most likely, you may be able to modify your riding habits to minimize risk. Over the last 4 years in NC, nearly 73% of crashes occurred in urban areas as opposed to rural areas. 55% of crashes happen between 3pm and midnight with the majority of those happening between 3pm and 6pm. Other understandings can help us mitigate risk as well. By understanding where conflicts with motorists occur, we can easily develop skills to help us avoid them. Being able to recognize a potential “Left Cross” or “Right Hook” gives you the opportunity to avoid them before it’s too late. Understanding how other vehicles can create screens that prevent other drivers from seeing you will help you stay visible to everyone. Using lane and destination positioning will help you communicate with other drivers around you. Being predictable is a big part of safe cycling

Consider taking a class to learn more about these and other conflicts along with the best ways to avoid them. In Charlotte we offer classes taught by certified instructors from both the League of American Bicyclists and American Bicycle Education Association. In the end, I firmly believe that by understanding the facts, keeping the risk in perspective and by taking time to better educate ourselves we can all have safe, enjoyable experiences every time we kit up and go out for a ride.

 

Jeff Viscount
jeff@weeklyrides.com

Jeff Viscount is the founder of WeeklyRides.com, a website dedicated to maintaining and sharing an extensive list of everything bike in the Charlotte and surrounding area. He has an extensive background in cycling event logistics and has led logistics teams on many of the largest organized rides in North Carolina. He serves both local and statewide advocacy groups in an advisory position. Jeff is a certified Cycling Savvy Instructor through the American Bicycle Education Association as well as a League Certified Instructor through the League of American Bicyclists. Jeff is also an FCC licensed Ham Radio operator. When Jeff isn’t working to educate cyclists, he can be found volunteering at one of the many area charity rides, working with the local radio club, to provide event communications and emergency management. Jeff is also the founder of the Assault on Morrow Mountain; a series of six central North Carolina rides that feature the popular climb to the top of Morrow Mountain.