Statistics about Safety, Fatalities, & Injuries
Stats about Pollution, Energy Use, Walking, Highways, and Airplanes, are on our general Almanac page. (All statistics below refer to the United States unless otherwise noted.)
I’m no longer updating this page because I don’t have the time, but much of the older info below is still very useful. What’s below is all I have.
There is no need to write to ask if I’m hoarding extra statistics instead of publishing them for some reason.
Disclaimer / Grain of Salt
Cycling risk and deaths
Risk of death from cycling compared to driving.
|150 billion||Consumer Product Safety Commission “Bicycle Study” (doc. #344), 1991. States 67M cyclists riding 15B hours. Frankly, this figure is not very believable.|
|6 to 21 billion||U.S. Dept. of Trans. / Fed. Hwy Admin. “The Environmental Benefits of Bicycling and Walking“, 1993|
|6.2 billion||Bureau of Transportation Statistics, National Household Travel Survey, 2001|
So we’ll compare risk at both the 6.2 billion and 21 billion miles traveled levels.
784 cyclists died in 2005 (p. 86). That would make the death rate of 0.37 to 1.26 deaths per 10 million miles.
33,041 motorists/passengers died (p. 86) from 3 trillion miles traveled (p. 15), making their death rate 0.11 per 10 million miles traveled.
So cyclists are either 3.4x or 11.5x as likely to die as motorists, per passenger mile. Neither conclusion is very happy.
However, all these figures include people who ride dangerously, such as against traffic, at night without lights, on sidewalks, or through red lights/stop signs without adequately checking cross-traffic. A study in Washington State found that 11% cycling fatalities involved wrong-way riding. Subtracting out 11% of the nationwide deaths, we find that cyclists who don’t ride against traffic are 3x to 10.2x more likely to get killed than motorists, which is better, but still bad.
More than 80% of fatalities for child bicyclists 14 and under were caused by unsafe riding (riding the wrong way, running signs, etc.) However, I can’t subtract out those fatalities, because then I’d be counting some wrong-way fatalities twice, since I already subtracted out wrong-way riding for all cyclists above.
I would like to subtract out fatalities where the cyclist was riding at night without lights, or riding on the sidewalk, or ran a traffic signal, but I can’t find the data. If you can find the percent of fatalities (not crashes) caused by these things, please share!
I just found a YouTube video which has interesting conclusions about the relative risk of biking vs. driving, but unfortunately it doesn’t cite references or show its work.
(All figures from NHTSA Traffic Safety Facts 2005 (PDF) except where otherwise linked. The BTS gives a slightly different figure for car passenger miles, 2.7 trillion.)
Where cyclists die or crash
Austin stats. Statistics specific to Austin are listed below.
When cyclists die
Age of cycling victims
Cell Phones & Texting
Cell phone use is just as dangerous as driving drunk, and hands-free phones are no safer than hand-held phones. (Bloomberg, July 2006)
46% of 17-year-olds text and drive, as do 52% of those over 18. Texting is a bigger impairment than drunk driving.(CBS, 2011)
DWD (Driving While Drowsy)
Speeding & Speed
Yes, “everybody does it” – or at least 71 percent of licensed drivers, according to the American Automobile Association. Nationwide, 13,713 died last year  in accidents caused by speeding. That’s about 400 more fatalities than were caused by drunken driving in 2002.
Moreover, while the number of drunken driving fatalities has fallen 37 percent nationwide in the past 20 years, the number of fatal accidents has been rising steadily in the 22 states that have raised their speed limits to 70 mph or more since 1995. Safety experts say the risk of death in a crash doubles for every 10-mph increase in speed.
Some Western European nations have already recognized that speeding can be just as dangerous as drunken driving. In England, for example, the government launched a campaign: “Kill your speed – not a child.” It also installed lots of roadside cameras to photograph and tickets speeders. (Alas, photo radar is illegal in Wisconsin.) The result of the British campaign: a 50 percent reduction in speeding-related fatalities.
Stats specific to Austin
A good collection of statistics regarding car-bike collisions in Austin is available on the bicycle section of the City’s Safe Communities page. Here are some excerpts from their report (percentages have been rounded):
- An average of 2.4 cyclists dies each year in Austin. (From 1980-96, the fewest in any one year was 0, and the most was 7.)
- Of the 41 cyclists killed between 1980-1996, 39 were struck by motor vehicles. (>95%)
- 80% of the victims were age 39 or under.
- From 1990-96, 12 cyclists were killed, but another 1,222 were injured. Of those injured, around 15% suffered incapacitating injuries (i.e., needed help leaving the scene of the crash).
- Surprisingly, from 1994-96, nearly 78% of cyclist injuries occurred during daylight hours, which a huge chunk of the total (42%) occurring during just the four-hour period of 4-8pm.
- However, although night-time collisions are more rare, they’re also more dangerous. While only 22% of all injuries occurred at dusk or at night, 46% of fatal and incapacitating injuries did.
- From 1994-96, 57% of bicycle injuries either occurred at intersections or were intersection-related. Another 16% occurred at commercial or residential driveways. Since driveways are really a kind of intersection, ~73% occurred at some kind of intersection.
- Bicyclists were judged to be in violation of the law in 62% of crashes from 1994-96.
- Of the 180 cases in which the police noted motorist-related crash factors, citations were issued to motorists only 35% of the time. (1994-96) For example, in the 39 cases in 1998 where drivers caused or contributed to bike collisions by failing to yield the right of way, citations were issued in only 14 cases.
- While most collisions occurred on city streets, those occurring on the frontage road of I-35 or on county roads were about twice as likely to be fatal or incapacitating (probably due to the increased speed of automobiles on these roads).
Other Websites with Statistics
Sources not already linked above
- From the Eugene/Springfield (OR) Bicycle Map (1998?), which further credits the American Lung Association, Oregon Traffic Commission, Association of Commuter Transportation, American Automobile Association, and City of Eugene.
- “Motor Vehicle Crashes as a Leading Cause of Death in 1994”, U.S. Dept. of Transportation, 1998
- Traffic Safety Facts 1996: Pedalcyclists, U.S. Dept. of Transportation.
- Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
- USA Today, online edition, 10-22-01, attributed to the Insurance Institute for highway safety. [link to article]
European studies showing that the health benefits of cycling add years to life on average, even after accounting for the higher risk of dying on the road. (Not valid for the U.S. where the roads are more dangerous.)
- British Medical Association, Cycling towards Health & Safety, 1992, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-10-286151-4
- Hillman, M., Cycle Helmets, The Case For and Against, 1993, Policy Studies Institute Report 752, ISBN 0-85374-602-8