Who Causes Cyclists' Deaths?

More than 52,000 bicyclists have been killed in bicycle traffic accidents in the U.S. over the 80 years the federal government has been keeping records. When it comes to sharing the road with cars, many people seem to assume that such accidents are usually the cyclist’s fault — a result of reckless or aggressive riding. But an analysis of police reports on 2,752 bike-car accidents in Toronto found that clumsy or inattentive driving by motorists was the cause of 90 percent of these crashes. Among the leading causes: running a stop sign or traffic light, turning into a cyclist’s path, or opening a door on a biker. This shouldn’t come as too big a surprise: motorists cause roughly 75 percent of motorcycle crashes too. [%comments]


I ride a bike every day to work. I'm glad to see someone looking at this rationally. Bikers are the red-headed step children of the commuting world - we get fined if we ride on sidewalks, or hit by cars if we ride in the streets.


Absolutely no surprise. I cycle a lot in an unfriendly bike town - Atlanta. I often go with a fast crowd of racers. There is almost no act of driver stupidity or inattention that would surprise me - I've seen so much of it. And in this town, plenty of outright hostility.

Bob Mionske, attorney & ex-collegiate racer, writes an excellent column on cycling & the law (used to be on Velo News, now on Bicycling magazine). He examines the legal implications of cycling on public roads all over the U.S. Besides drawing similar conclusions to this study regarding who's at fault, another factor is equally dark for cyclists: police departments all over the land overwhelmingly are biased towards motorists. There have been many incidents where cyclists were seriously injured or even killed without the driver involved even being ticketed!


As a dedicated rider, got a witness. The most dangerous thing to a cyclist (aside from the curb that cost me a broken arm this summer) is a motorist with a cup of coffee in one hand, a bagel in the other, a cell phone conversation going on and God only knows how she's holding that mascara brush.


Who are these "many" people who assumed it was the cyclist's fault? People who've never walked or ridden on a bicycle?


From the summary: "1. Approximately three- fourths of these motorcycle accidents involved collision with another
vehicle, which was most often a passenger automobile." and "6. In multiple vehicle accidents, the driver of the other vehicle violated the motorcycle right-ofway
and caused the accident in two-thirds of those accidents."

My reading of the summary indicates that other motorists or vehicles cause about 50% of motorcycle crashes, rather than 75%. (66% of 75% would be 50%).

Joe D

And some of the ones that aren't inattentive are malicious. I got shoved into the gutter by some company van on freakin' bike-to-work day. This guy decided he had to be in front of me at the red light (as *if* he couldn't pass me as soon as the light turned green), pulled out to pass, and pulled back in while I was still beside him; he caught me on the shoulder with his side panel. If I hadn't been so shaken by that, I'd have called his employer and the police, but I didn't get the company name.


As an addendum to the above, a quick reading of the bicycle statistics indicate that about 40% of those accidents could be qualified as violating the cyclist's right-of-way. That would put cyclists of either sort at roughly the same risk for the single largest cause of collisions.


"And some of the ones that aren't inattentive are malicious."

Bears repeating.


The problem is that there is a culture of victimization among cyclists. If someone is struck by a car, vehicular cyclists say that that person "wasn't being proactive enough" -- they should have taken the lane, they should have been over more, they should have been wearing high-vis vests with neon lights saying "DON'T HIT ME, I'M A HUMAN BEING OVER HERE". No, there is only so much one can do to limit that risk without compromising the utility of cycling as transportation.
We need to have an epochal shift in culture of both driving and cycling. Drivers need to realize that cyclists were on the roads first, that they are vehicles, and that two seconds of waiting behind cyclists until it is safe to pass are better than the consequences of ending the cyclist's life. Of course, we need penalties for ending cyclists' lives that actually ARE worse than waiting two seconds. We need to enforce the rules about passing safely, and about not assaulting the drivers of other vehicles (hitting your incredibly loud aftermarket horn as you pass me counts). We need to train cyclists on how to survive on the roads that are here in the first place, even before the attitude shift, because if bicycles don't become commonplace they will never be looked for by cars.
But by far the greatest problem is that the second someone sits behind the wheel of a car, they are insulated from everything else and instantly adopt a "me vs. them" mentality. It's the same thing that leads to road rage. I don't know what would change that, but God only knows that without it we will continue to see more and more cycle/car accidents and more random attacks on cyclists, as well.



Anyone who bikes regularly within a city knows that drivers are more dangerous than cyclists. My wife worried about me when I was biking to and from work every day (9 months of the year, for about 6 years straight) because she was sure I'd be hit by a car. She wasn't worried that I'd fall off my bike, slip off the road or bike path into a river, or wipe out on my own... she was convinced I'd be the victim of a careless driver.

As I told her, though, when you bike that much, you learn to assume the worst about drivers. I always assume, as I approach an intersection where I have the right-of-way, that any driver at that intersection may not see me. It doesn't matter that I'm tall (6'2'') and riding a relatively large-framed (21'') bike... I just assume that I may be invisible. I make sure that I can see the driver's eyes on me before I go through the intersection, as I don't really think they're out to get me. Some drivers simply don't see cyclists. Many of them also don't tend to signal if the only other vehicle around is a bike, meaning that I have to always be prepared to be cut off by a sudden change in direction that a car near me may make.

And at the end of the day, I've contributed less pollution to the planet than those drivers, provided less support for foreign oil barons, done more to improve my own health and therefore reduce the drag on the public health system (paid for by taxes here in Canada) and reduced congestion on the roads wherever bike paths are available. As I've said before: you'd think we cyclists would be hailed as heroes, instead of "the red-headed step children" of society, as "dude" (Comment # 1) so aptly puts it. Sheesh.



I, too, can't imagine who is thinking that cyclists are at fault in most accidents. Drivers, even bus drivers and other public transit officials, are vicious.

But, it is also true that I see cyclists doing stupid things like riding the wrong way down a one-way street, often on lesser-traveled streets, especially in Brooklyn. This pisses off law-abiding cyclists as badly as does automobile misbehavior, and should be remedied through some combination of education and enforcement, I suppose.


I don't doubt that motorists are responsible for the vast majority of
bicycle and motorcycle accidents. However, I think that motorcyclists
have responded to this fact in a more realistic way.

A long time ago, I asked a motorcyclist about the safety of riding a
motorcycle. He said, "I always ride a little bit scared."

I remembered that when I got my motorcycle. It does not detract from
the enjoyment of motorcycling, it just means that I have to pay
attention and know, not assume, that I am invisible to the drivers
around me.

I'm not trying to shift blame. Motorists should pay attention to
bicyclists and motorcyclists but too many times, I have seen
bicyclists ride into situations where they seem to think that
they are seen, everyone understands their intentions, and that
everyone will do the right thing. Wrong, wrong, wrong. It
only takes one mistake to ruin or end a life.

In any argument between a car and a bike, the bike always loses.


East Coast Phil

What people assume it's the cyclist's fault? It sure wasn't my fault when a driver threw open his door and chucked me out into the middle of rush-hour traffic. And I would scan the parked cars as I rode, but you can't do that every second.


While I know statistically that's true, I can also understand where the perception comes from. Until my recent move I drove home every day on a popular cycling road in St. Paul. Every day I watched at least one cyclist blow at least one of the stop sign while on the road. A couple times I saw a pack of 20-30 cyclists simultaneously blow a stop sign.

So far this summer, I almost hit a cyclist with my car door because he was coming down a hill very fast on the wrong side of a parkway, and I almost hit another one because he didn't obey a stop sign. The mantra among my friends is on the sidewalk act like a pedestrian, on the road act like a car.


I agree that drivers should yield to bicyclists in all situations on the road. However, I do see a lot of the following: bicyclists going the wrong way on a one way street or going against traffic, bicyclists failing to stop at a red light, bicyclists riding at night without lights, bicyclists failing to signal turns. Improvements in these areas would definitely help drivers see bicyclists and avoid them.

DC Cyclist

I was crossing with the light near the national mall in DC, and was almost hit by a motorist who apparently didn't think either I or a red light was worth stopping for. He screeched to a stop about 2 feet in front of me. I pointed to the red light, and he shot me a double bird. So, I rode over and spit on his windshield. I could blame it on the adreneline or whatever, but I think that I had just had enough. I'm not really proud of it, but there it is.


"No, there is only so much one can do to limit that risk without compromising the utility of cycling as transportation."

Many cyclists in my area don't, imo. I nearly hit one recently, in the dark early hours of the morning on a street with no lighting. The cyclist didn't have a light on his bike, wasn't wearing reflective clothing, and didn't have a helmet. I only saw him when I was nearly on top of him, shining my car lights right at him. (I was turning left at the time.) Surely making oneself visible isn't asking too much?

I also see many cyclists ignore stop signs and red lights, and don't bother yielding the right of way to cars (yes, sometimes automobiles actually have the right of way.) When I'm on my bike, I'm extra cautious because I'm a lot harder to see than another car.


Right after I started riding motorcycles, my mother said something to the effect of "a lot of people must be buying motorcycles, all of a sudden I see a lot more of them on the road."

Of course, it was more a matter of "my son rides a motorcycle now, I have to start noticing them..."


Something I see a lot of ... too much of, in fact ... in the rural, hilly region I live in, are cyclists riding in the middle of the driving lane. I can avoid them if I see them, but sometimes when you go over a hill, you don't necessarily have much notice, if the cyclist has only just gone over the crest. Too often I've had to slam on my brakes to keep from hitting them.

That's not exactly safe, if another vehicle is following me, which also has no notice that there's something in the road ahead.

Only later is the cyclist aware of me, and only then does s/he think to move over ... but only sometimes. A lot of the time they refuse to move, and I have to drive my car at bicycle speed until I can pass. I have no idea why they won't move over, but they just refuse.

That's only one problem. A lot of cyclists also breeze through stop signs as if they weren't there (but then again, way out here, so too do a lot of cars; but they're not any more right to do so, either).

I realize that cars are probably more often at fault in the average car/bicycle accident, but some of the cyclists' behavior is just plain stupid.


Eric M. Jones

Riding a bycycle or a motorcycle is similarly dangerous, and the best advice is , "You're INVISIBLE...Ride like it."