How Safe is Cycling?

Recently, with the help of some friends, I was able to find a route that I could use to ride my bike to work. Obviously, safety was my main concern. It’s something that cyclists and their families think about a great deal. I know that in our house, my wife always worries as I leave the house in the mornings for my rides. Honestly though, at times I worry a bit myself. I don’t want a recreational activity to end up as a life altering, or ending, event. So I thought I would do a little digging to see how safe our sport is. What I found was quite comforting.

In 2009, there were 630 cycling fatalities nationwide. Initially the number seems a bit large, but that breaks down to about 13 fatalities per state. Of course fate doesn’t yeild it’s sword evenly, so I would assume states like Texas and California are going to have a much greater percentage of those deaths than North Dakota or Wyoming. Still, given all the cycling in this country, 630 didn’t seem alarming. But here’s where it got interesting for me.

Bicycle fatality statistics are not reported for just those who ride competitively or as a form of exercise. It records all deaths on a bike. Of that 630 deaths, 28% of those people were drunk. Even more surpising to me was that 91% of fatalities happened when the rider wasn’t wearing a helmet. That means 53 people died last year on a bike while wearing a helmet, or roughly 1 per state per year. There were some other interesting statistics such as percentage that were riding against the flow of traffic and those within 25 feet of an intersection.

I watch enough politics to know that numbers can be resuffled to fit your agenda. (Ever heard the old saying, ” Theres 3 types of lies. Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics”) Perfect example was an article that I read in looking up this stuff that stated that cycling was one of the most dangerous sports around. Why? The writer took similar statistics that I’ve used and calculated deaths per mile ridden. Since most people (including those who choose to ride drunk at 3 am) ride a very short distance, it skewed the numbers to fit his purpose. Maybe I’m doing the same thing. I don’t know.

Anyway, this is what I learned from my little exercise. If you ride with a helmet, with traffic, sober, during normal people hours (7% were killed between 3am and 6am) and obey the traffic laws (i.e. stopping running red lights). Then you have considerably lowered your chances of getting hit.

Now I’m quite aware that sometimes bad stuff just happens. I’ve seen friends get hit and been hit myself. There will always be jackasses who are allowed to get behind the wheel of a car, not to mention the true accidents that happen. But taking a few precautions will keep your risks quite low.

Oh, and I tried out the route and rode to work the other day. It went much better than expected, and was a great way to add 50 miles to my training.

Keep the rubber side down.

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