Bike Accidents are On the Rise
Learning to ride a bike is a hallmark of childhood. It offers every rider a sense of freedom, adventure, exploration, and fun. As adults, bike riding may become less of an adventure and more of a healthy form of exercise or a practical method of transportation, but it is always fun! And for many of the 52.73 million Americans who participate in bicycling on a regular basis, bike riding has become a primary source of enjoyment.
For nearly two decades, the rate of bicycling in the United States as remained relatively stable, although increasing slightly from year to year. However, beginning in 2020, with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the number of bike riding enthusiasts took a sudden upswing.
According to Peopleforbikes.org, since March 2020, 4% of the U.S. population (ages 18 and older) rode a bike for the first time in their lives or for the first time in over a year. During the pandemic, an additional 6% took up new styles of riding, such as indoor riding or bicycling as a new method of transportation.
Approximately 96% of U.S. cities reported increased levels of bike riding during the pandemic. Increased bicycling was encouraged by some 200 cities in the United States that adapted city streets to accommodate more bicycles but still allowed for social distancing during outdoor activities. Bicycling became a popular activity for getting out of the house, exercising, reducing stress, and socializing during the pandemic. Naturally, however, with such a significant increase of new bike riders comes an increase in bicycle accidents
How Common Are Bike Accidents?
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) encourages all riders to increase their safety while riding by:
- Wearing a helmet
- Riding with the flow of traffic
- Riding a bike suitable for your size
- Riding during daylight hours
- Obeying traffic rules
- Not consuming alcohol while riding
No matter how cautious you are, however, accidents involving bikes and motor vehicles or pedestrians are inevitable. Many bike accidents result in serious injury or fatality.
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) reports that there are approximately 850 bicyclist fatalities every year. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, this constitutes 2% of all car accident fatalities in the United States.
Here are additional bike accident statistics issued by the NHTSA:
- About 78% of bicycle/car crash fatalities occur in urban areas; 22% occur in rural areas
- About 37% of all fatal bicycle crashes involve alcohol consumption
- Males are 7 times more likely than females to die in a bicycle accident and 5 times more likely to be injured
- Most bike accident fatalities occur between 6:00 and 9:00 pm
Many fatalities and injuries resulting from bike accidents could be avoided by wearing a helmet and proper protective gear. Many states have mandatory helmet laws to minimize the number of fatalities and injuries when a bike accident does occur.
What Are the Most Common Causes of Bike Accidents?
Many bike accidents (about 50%) involve a bicyclist who loses control of the bike and falls, not a collision with a motor vehicle. Some of the common causes of single bike falls include:
- Bicyclist using an improperly fitted bike for their size
- Mechanical failure
- Clothing (shoelaces, pant leg, ties) getting caught
- Letting go of the handle bars (riding with no hands)
- Limited bicycling skills
- Hazardous road surfaces
- Animal attacks
However, according to the Federal Highway Administration, about 20% of bike accidents involve collisions between bicycles and motor vehicles. The main cause of bicycle/motor vehicle accidents is that the motor vehicle driver does not see the bicyclist or simply fails to yield the right of way to a cyclist. There are several common scenarios in which this is likely to occur.
What Is the Most Common Type of Bicycle Crash?
Here are ten of the most common types of bike accidents:
- Riding against traffic. Approximately 25% of bicycle/motor vehicle accidents occur when a cyclist is riding against oncoming traffic and an oncoming vehicle makes a right turn in front of the bicyclist. Bicycles are difficult to see and motorist do not expect riders to be traveling against the flow of traffic. You should always ride your bicycle on the right side of the road and travel in the same direction as the road traffic.
- Right cross collision. Because bicycles on the road are treated just like any other motor vehicle on the road, motorists must yield the right of way to bicycles riding with flowing traffic. A right cross collision occurs when a bicyclist is moving with traffic on the right side of the road and a motor vehicle pulls out of a side street or driveway from the cyclist’s right side. When this happens, either the motorist will strike the cyclist or will pull out in front of the cyclist, who then collides with the left side of the motor vehicle. A similar accident can occur when a bicyclist pulls out of a driveway or side street in front of a vehicle. Right cross collisions account for 5.1% of all bicycle crashes and usually occur in residential areas.
- Left cross collision. A left cross collision occurs when a cyclist is traveling with the flow of traffic and an oncoming motorist makes a left turn in front of the cyclist. Left cross collisions are the cause of 40% of motorcycle accidents but only 1.2% of bike accidents because the cyclist is usually traveling at a much lower rate of speed.
- Rear end collisions. Rear end collisions can occur when a bicyclist fails to brake properly when approaching a car from behind at a stop sign or red light. They also can occur when a bicyclist riding on the right side of the road swerves left to avoid a hazard in the road and a motor vehicle hits the bicyclist from behind.
- Right hook collision. A right hook collision occurs when a rider is traveling on the right side of the road and a motor vehicle passes the bicyclist on the left but then makes a right turn into the path of the cyclist. The motorist usually forgets that the bicyclist is in their blind spot or thinks that they have sufficiently cleared the bicyclist to make the turn.
- Vehicle overtaking bicyclist. About 1.3% of all crashes are the result of a motor vehicle simply trying to overtake a bicyclist on the left and either hitting or sideswiping the bicyclist. These accidents occur most at night, when bicycles are difficult to see. Approximately 54% of these crashes result in serious injury or fatality.
- “Dooring.” A “dooring” accident occurs when a rider is traveling with traffic on the right side of the road but has a line of parked cars to the right, and a motorist in one of the parked cars opens their left side door just as the bicyclist is passing. These can also occur when a bicyclist is riding on the left side of the sidewalk next to cars parked in the street to the left, and a passenger in the vehicle opens the right side door in front of the cyclist. Dooring accidents occur in only 2% of cases nationally, but they occur in 25% of bicycle accidents in urban areas.
- Uncontrolled intersection accidents. These accidents typically occur at intersections where there are no signals or stop signs and a bicyclist and a motorist at the intersection cannot determine who has the right of way. When both travelers move into the intersection at the same time, they collide.
- Road rage. Although it is rare that a motorist would intentionally collide with a bicyclist, motorist road rage is a common problem and can be triggered just as easily by a bicyclist occupying the road as any other motorist. It is important that riders obey the rules of the road, yield the right of way when appropriate, and use proper hand signals when turning. Communicating with motorists on the road can go a long way toward avoiding a road rage situation.
- Pedestrian collisions. Another common type bike accident is when a rider collides or sideswipes a pedestrian. The likelihood of a pedestrian collision increases significantly when cyclists ride on the sidewalk instead of the road or appointed bicycle lanes. Bicyclists riding through intersections also may collide with pedestrians crossing the street.
Many bicycle/motor vehicle collisions can be avoided if motorists and bicyclists eliminate distracted driving (or riding), obey the rules of the road, and appropriately yield the right of way to other travelers. Although bicyclists can be at fault in an accident, when motor vehicles and bicycles collide, it is often because the motorist does not treat the bicyclist as an equal on the road. When this is the cause of an accident, bicyclists may have a right to file a personal injury claim and be compensated for their injuries.