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Anatomy of An Accident: Cycling Fatalities By The Numbers


One of the many beautiful aspects of cycling is how differently it can be pursued. It fulfills so many different roles for different people. For some, it’s a vital form of transportation. Others, a competitive hobby. For many, it’s a casual sort of recreation that blends health benefits with a unique and pleasurable way to explore places new and old. 

We should never be afraid of riding a bicycle, and to ride confidently, it’s important that we balance and register risk factors in the habits we form while cycling. By looking at key incident data, cyclists of every ilk are more likely to make smart decisions and put themselves in a safer position. 

The National Highway Safety Traffic Safety Administration offers up a few key bit of information that you should keep in mind. The NHTSA tracks crash data from automotive and bicyclist across the country and compiles the numbers to give cyclists a snapshot of the typical crash or accident. 

Who: According to the NHTSA’s data for 2017, men are eight times more likely to be involved in a crash with an automobile than a woman. The average age of a cyclist involved in was 47 years old. In total, 783 people died in pedalcyclist accidents over the course of the calendar year. 

Where: Where you ride has a big impact on your risk factor. 75% of fatalities occur in urban settings, with 63% of deaths occuring away from intersections. Those numbers make a lot of sense; urban areas have a higher concentration of motorists, and those cars are travelling at their highest speeds away from intersections. 

When: The timing of your ride, too, can play a big part in how dangerous riding can be. Seasonal factors come into play, but the most common time for a fatal accident is between 6pm and 9pm throughout the year. There is some slight variation between spring, summer, fall, and winter, though cyclist traffic certainly influences how likely those incidents are. 

Additionally, weekdays are more dangerous that weekends, and weekday afternoons during rush hour (3-6pm) tend to see the highest percentages of fatalities. 

Why: It’s certainly a difficult question. The NHTSA study does offer some insight into what variables increase risk the most. 

  • Volume: Rush hour in busy urban centers are obvious recipes for trouble. Factors such as the lack of adequate cycling infrastructure also contribute to exacerbating high-speed, high-volume traffic situations that involve both cars and bikes. 

  • Alcohol: It should come as no surprise that impaired road users contribute greatly to the situation. Alcohol was involved in 37% of fatal cycling accidents in 2017, with cyclists having illegal blood alcohol levels in at least one-fifth of cases. 

We’ve seen what a crash looks like for a cyclists, but what does the average car look like in a fatal accident? Over 96% of crashes involve a single cyclist and a single vehicle. Statistically, the most likely motorist to kill a cyclist drives a light truck (44%), with 88% of cyclists being struck by the front of the vehicle. 

These numbers offer up a good idea of what you can do to stay safe, and for the most part, they’re all incredibly obvious. Avoid riding in cities during peak traffic times, don’t ride your bike under the influence, and take precautions against additional factors like visibility, weather, and cycling infrastructure. For more on the study, head here