Bicycle Deaths on the Rise Nationally, But Not in Minnesota

Originally published October 28th, 2014, on Rick Kupchella’s Bring Me the News.

As more cyclists take to the roads nationwide, the number of fatalities has also increased sharply, except in Minnesota, where they’ve actually dropped.bicycling-minneapolis

Governors Highway Safety Association report released Monday tracked bicycle deaths from 2010 to 2012 – the most recent data available – and found the number of bicyclists killed in collisions with motor vehicles in that timespan was up 16 percent, from 621 in 2010 to 680 in 2011 and 722 in 2012.

However, in Minnesota, which is home to one of the most bike-friendly cities, bicycle deaths are on the decline. The number of bicycle fatalities in the state dropped by two from 2010 to 2012 – in that timespan 21 bicyclists were killed, the report said.

The Minnesota Department of Safety notes that as a group, pedestrians and bicyclists make up nearly 10 percent of all traffic fatalities each year, and 71 percent of the fatalities occur in urban areas.

Here’s a breakdown of state statistics:

The Minnesota Department of Transportation notes 18 bicyclists died on Minnesota roads from 2011 to 2013, a decline from the previous three-year period (2008-2011), where 32 bicyclists were killed.

Last year, there were seven fatalities and 822 serious injuries in Minnesota, MnDOT says.

The City of Minneapolis, which analyzed bicycle accident statistics from 2000 to 2010, found 93.5 percent of crashes during that timespan involved bicycles and vehicles, with 12 bicyclist fatalities – about 270 bicyclist-motorist collisions occurred annually in Minneapolis during that timespan, down from an average of 320 from 1993-1999.

In Minneapolis accidents, bicyclists sustained injuries in 87 percent of crashes involving vehicles, while motorists were injured in no crashes.

Streets.Mn also looks at how safe bicycling is in Minnesota.

Wear a helmet, don’t bike drunk

The Governors Highway Safety Association report also found that a major factor in bicyclist deaths nationwide involved people who weren’t wearing a helmet or were bicycling while drunk.

More than two-thirds of bicyclists fatally injured in 2012 weren’t wearing helmets and more than one-fourth of adult bicyclists who were killed that year were alcohol impaired.

The city of Minneapolis analyzed biking accident statistics from 2000 to 2010 and found that during that timespan crashes involving known drug use or drinking are limited. Impaired cyclists made up about 6 percent of crashes, while an impaired driver made up 1.2 percent of vehicle-bicycle collisions.

Dr. Allan Williams, who authored the study, told NPR that just as people shouldn’t drink and drive, they also shouldn’t bike and drive.

“The alcohol always surprises me a little bit, even though I know it’s there,” Williams told NPR. “Who are these people? You don’t think people are going to be biking after they’ve drunk a considerable amount of alcohol. These are people who are at .08 [blood alcohol level]. That’s a considerable amount of drinks.”

Other findings

Here are some other findings from the Governors Highway Safety Association report:

  • The percentage of bicycle deaths that happened in urban areas climbed from 50 percent in 1975 to 69 percent in 2012.
  • Between 2010 and 2012, six states – California, Florida, Illinois, New York, Michigan and Texas – accounted for 54 percent of all bicyclist fatalities in collisions with motor vehicles.
  • During that timespan, 23 states averaged five or fewer bicycle-vehicle collision deaths, and in 11 states and the District of Columbia there were five or fewer total bicyclist deaths.

Children used to be the most likely to die in bicyclist accidents, but adults 20 and older represented 84 percent of bicyclist fatalities in 2012, compared to only 21 percent in 1975, the report found. And adult males made up 74 percent of bicyclists killed in 2012.

MnDOT notes that 45 percent of the fatalities and serious injuries to bicyclists in the state in 2013 involved people ages 15 to 29 years old. 15 percent of incidents involved 5 to 14 year olds.

In Minneapolis, cyclists ages 18-24 were involved in 21.9 percent of all crashes from 2009-2010.

Who’s to blame?

MnDOT says crash statistics show cyclists and motorists are equally at fault in bicycle-vehicle crashes. Most of these accidents happen at intersections involving major roads, motorists who don’t see or yield to the cyclist, or cyclists who are riding in an unpredictable manner, the city of Minneapolis said.

Williams told NPR that to stay safe, cyclists should follow traffic laws, wear a helmet and be visible to motorists, and for motorists to be courteous to cyclists and give them space on the roads.

He also said cities can do more to keep bicycle crashes and fatalities down by making more roads that separate bikes from cars, light roads better and design roads to make bikers more visible.

Many State Highway Safety Offices are giving bicyclist safety considerable attention, despite cyclists representing just 2 percent of motor vehicle-related fatalities – a percentage that has remained constant since 1975, the Governors Highway Safety Association said in a news release.

“Many states are dedicating resources to ensuring the safety of all roadway users, including bicyclists, by investing in educating bicyclists and motorists, promoting helmet use, enforcing motor vehicle laws and implementing infrastructure changes,” said Jonathan Adkins, GHSA Executive Director.

For more on what Minnesota agencies are doing to keep cyclists safe, click here.

6 thoughts on “Bicycle Deaths on the Rise Nationally, But Not in Minnesota

  1. Walker AngellWalker Angell

    Be careful not to confuse causation and correlation. By many estimates nearly 2/3’s of people riding bicycles in Minnesota don’t wear helmets so having the same rate if head injuries for helmeted and non-helmeted would indicate that helmets have no effect on reducing traumatic brain injury.

    Reality though, in my opinion, is probably closer to 50% of bicycle riders not wearing helmets. Which still creates a problem since people who wear helmets should and likely are much safer riders. Given this, they should likely account for much less than 1/3 if helmets were effective.

    Perhaps the big smoking gun though is that head injuries as a percent of all bicycle injuries is fairly consistently about 33% in countries with near zero helmet wearing (NL, Finland, Germany,…) and countries with high helmet use (U.S., Australia). Helmets do not seem to make any difference.

    This is very far from a scientific study but is something to think about. Promoting something that is likely ineffective is not only a waste of time and resources but also unnecessarily scares people from riding bicycles and gives others a false sense of security.

  2. hokan

    Looks like the governors, in typical shortsighted fashion, got it wrong.

    A few of the many refutations:

  3. hokan

    It looks like my comment didn’t get posted because it contained web links.

    The gist was that the governors study is typically shortsighted — it got the trend wrong. There are many refutations, including from BikePortland, the Alliance for Biking and Walking, the League of American Bicyclists, PeopleForBikes, and StreetsBlog.

    Google will find them, and many more.

    Cycling is getting safer, and not just in Minnesota.

  4. Stan

    I’m just passing through the area and I have to admit I was shocked that Saint Paul doesn’t have any bike lanes that I could see anywhere. I looked all over downtown, west 7th and couldn’t find a single one? Why is that? It’s a big “progressive” city right? Minneapolis is awesome for cycling! Wow, I was even in little Eau Claire, Wisconsin and even they have bike lanes and sharrows all over town but Saint Paul doesn’t? What’s going on?

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