Study Notes Accident Trends in Cycling

A BFOC fan pointed us to this recent Freakonomics article regarding bicycle accidents. If you forward to the site they referenced (Project Freeride), they break down in greater depth the accidents and their causes, and cite risks associated in other countries. Intersections, of course, being the most common areas (which is the same for pedestrians, bicycles, and cars). As we’ve highlighted in the past, European countries and cities in the US that have adopted bicycle infrastructure have come up with the most creative techniques for calming traffic at intersections and making drivers slow dramatically at turns, or stop altogether before bicycles (as seen in Portland’s new bike boxes). Other telling findings include:

– Streets with bike lanes have significantly lower crash rates then either major or minor streets without any bicycle facilities (38 and 56% respectively)

– Data from Canada suggests that provinces that have invested the most in cycling tend to have the highest rates of cycling and also the lowest rates cycling mortality. Quebec has invested more than any other province on cycling. For the period 1987 to 2000, the total number of bicycles in Quebec more than doubled, and the number of regular cyclists increased by 50%, while cycling fatalities fell by 42%, serious injuries fell by 56%, and minor injuries fell by 38%

– According the British Medical Journal, the most important deterrent to riding bikes expressed by non-cyclists is fear of motor traffic. (a recent US study cites the same)

– Data from Europe also suggests that counties that have invested the most in cycling tend to have the highest rates of cycling and also the lowest rates cycling mortality

– All surveys in both Canadian and American cities clearly indicate that more separate cycling facilities—bike paths and lanes—would most encourage people to cycle.

– U.S. cyclists are three times more likely to be killed than German cyclists and six times more than Dutch cyclists, whether compared per-trip or per-distance traveled

– Dr. Ian Walker (a professor at the University of Bath in the in the UK) attached a proximity sensor to his bike and spend a year measuring how close vehicles were when they overtook him on his daily commute to work. Some of his findings(16):
o Motorists overtook more closely when he wore a helmet than when he didn’t.
o Cars gave him the most room, trucks less room and buses the least room of all.
o By wearing a wig, he found that cars gave him more room when he appeared to be a female cyclist.

– As levels of pedestrian and bicyclist activity rise their per capita risk falls. Drivers adapt their behavior in the presence of increased cycling and walking.

– Authorities on both sides of the helmet debate generally agree that helmet use is not nearly as important in preventing injuries as proper cycling infrastructure such as protected bike lanes (18, 20, 21). In fact, cities such as Amsterdam that have invested in cycling infrastructure have the lowest rates of cycling accidents (6) despite having very low rates of helmet use (about 0.1%)

– Poor cycling infrastructure and safety are much larger deterrents to bicycling than poor weather.


  1. Jesse Kapsha · ·

    This article refers to “protected bike lanes” as “proper cycling infrastructure”. This is the last thing that the United States needs. As a cyclist I am a roadway user with the rights and responsibilities of any other roadway user. I refuse to be relegated to a second-class citizen on the roadway by being forced into so-called “protected bike lanes”.

    If police in my locality and state spent more time citing roadway users(cyclist included) for violations that have greater potential for causing harm(failure to yield right-of-way, running red lights, following too close, failure to signal intent, etc.) than they spend giving out speeding citations on limited access highways, that are designed for speeds well in excess of the posted limits, then our roads would be a safer place for all vehicular operators, drivers and cyclists alike.

    For the expert’s take on the content of this article, I direct all cyclists or would-be cyclists to research John Forester and Effective Cycling. Specifically, the following link addresses the subject of the article:

  2. photopolus · ·


    We appreciate your concern for the matter, but please review our “FAQ’s on Bicycle Lanes” before posting. The arguments you noted have already been thoroughly discussed and answered in Numbers 4, 5, 7, and 23.

    Also, I’d refer you to number 15 which highlights League Certified Instructors in favor of bicycle infrastructure, along with racing champions Lance Armstrong, and Nicole Freedman w/corresponding articles.

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