Who Is At Highest Risk For A Bicycle Crash?
It can be difficult to imagine a bicycle crash happening to you until you either have a close call or it happens to you. Each year, thousands of people are involved in bicycle crashes or endure injuries, but some groups of people have a far higher rate of encountering such an event than others do.
In fact, the number of preventable deaths from bicycle transportation incidents increased 16% in 2020 and have increased 44% in the last 10 years, according to the National Safety Council. This latest spike is in part because the nation saw a huge uptick in riders during the pandemic. Clear roads gave many the confidence to hop on a bike. But returning traffic levels and more cyclists have proven to be a dangerous mix in many areas of the country, including in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has been keeping statistics on bike crashes and those who are at highest risk. They are:
Adults ages 55-69 have the highest bicycle death rates, according to recent data compiled by the CDC. This isn’t a new phenomenon, but it is one on the rise. University of San Francisco researchers found in 2015 that there had been a substantial rise in people over 45 getting hurt — and even requiring a trip to the emergency room — while riding a bike.
“The rise in cycling in adults over 45 appears to be driving both the increase in injuries and (hospital) admissions, suggesting that older individuals are at increased risk for sustaining severe injury while cycling,” lead researcher Benjamin Breyer, an associate professor of urology at UCSF, told CBS News.
Another report by the CDC around the same time found that death rates for cyclists younger than15 fell by 92% between 1975 and 2012, but death rates for cyclists between the ages of 35 and 74 showed a large increase.
The researchers agree that older adults in particular need to be vigilant while riding. Staying in bike lanes or designated zones can help keep cyclists safe. These riders should also prioritize wearing a helmet and being visible to drivers who may be distracted.
Young adults and kids
While older adults have a very high death rate related to bicycle accidents, it’s still young riders that are the most likely to get hurt. People ages 10-24 account for nearly one-third of all bicycle-related injuries seen in U.S. emergency rooms, according to the CDC.
One study from the American Academy of Pediatrics reported this year that more than one million children in the U.S. fractured a bone while riding a bicycle over the past 20 years, most of them boys between the ages of 10 and 15.
Only a small minority of patients with skull fractures were wearing helmets, according to the study. Nearly 87% of patients were not wearing helmets at the time of the skull fracture.
“The results of our study suggest that continued efforts teaching road safety and promoting helmet use should be targeted towards all children, but with additional efforts being directed towards the most affected population, namely 10- to 15-year-old boys,” said Dr. J. Todd Lawrence, at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “Municipalities should continue to evaluate traffic patterns on their local roads to improve bike safety for children.”
In the state of California, it is law for children to wear helmets while riding a bicycle.
You don’t have to look any further than California’s own statistics for proof that men are at a far higher risk of injury or death while riding a bicycle.
Between the years 2003 and 2015, California Highway Patrol reported 1,753 cycling fatalities in California. Of those, 1,557, or about 87%, were men and boys, according to reporting by Sacramento’s ABC10. Researchers say that the stark contrast in bike-related injuries is due to a number of reasons. First, more men are cycling than women. They’re also more likely to ride in riskier conditions.
“Cities that take bike safety seriously by creating bike lanes see an increase in women who bike,” Dave Snyder, then-executive director of California Bicycle Commission, told the news station. Snyder specifically pointed to cities like Portland and San Francisco for their infrastructure, which can encourage safe riding for everybody.
Riding through the city can be an intimidating endeavor. While there is a sense of freedom — less traffic, fewer parking issues and way more time effective — it can also be dangerous.
In 2019, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that 78% of cyclists who died in crashes were riding in urban areas. About a quarter of all crashes occurred in intersections. Because more people are on roadways in urban areas, there’s a heightened number of accidents.
It’s always important to be aware of your surroundings. Watch for distracted drivers, make sure your bike and you are sporting the right reflective gear and follow traffic laws. While you can’t eliminate the risk of riding in the city, you can take precautions that will protect you.
Riding under the influence
It may be easy to dismiss a buzz when you’re heading home on your bicycle, but it puts you at a greater risk of being injured or even killed in an accident. Not to mention, you face legal penalties for riding under the influence of alcohol (CVC 21200.5).
According to the CDC, about one-third of crashes that result in a bicyclist’s death involve alcohol for the motor vehicle driver and/or bicyclist. Just like in a car, you can easily misjudge the traffic around you, ride carelessly and be a lot less alert.
If you’ve had too much to drink, get a ride instead of putting yourself and others at risk.