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]


KenC

As a cyclist - yes all of the above is true. Even many non-malicious drivers view my bike as an "ostacle" in "thier road" - and are not bashful about sharing their views (via shouted comments, fingers, thown objects, driving as close as possible without hitting me, etc.) . That said I would urge my fellow cyclists to 1) keep out of motorists way to the extent reasonably possible and safe and 2) obey ALL lights, signs and traffic laws scrupulously. In the first place legally you're required to follow traffic regulations just like any other vehicle on the road but even more important many non-cyclists see one cyclist not obeying the law and take that as a validation to run all the rest of us off the road.

Tom from Wisconsin

We have weird laws in Stevens Point, WI, including that cyclists are supposed to use the sidewalks rather than the streets. Some do, some don't. But what bothers me about cyclists is how many of them fail to obey any traffic rules whether on the road or sidewalk. I almost hit a cyclist once (didn't, thank God) by starting to pull out from a stop sign, at night, poorly lit area, only to have a cyclist pass across the intersection right in front of me, pedaling at speed (doing maybe 15-20 mph), no lights or reflectors on the bike. Time after time I see cyclists run stop signs without even slowing. They must feel the rules of the road do not apply to them.

Despite the above, this isn't an anti-cyclist rant. The thing is, if a cycle and car tangle up, its likely just a paint scratch or dent for the car, but catastrophe for the cycle and rider. Car drivers are notoriously inattentive and run into cycles, motorcycles, pedestrians, and each other, but a fender-bender between two cars is often minor while a car/other collision is rarely minor. Car drivers probably do cause more cycle/car collisions than cyclists, but I'm not convinced it is as one-sided as the article suggests. Its just that the consequences are very one-sided.

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Chris

I am always surprised that more cyclists aren't killed on the roads. In our area, certainly, I see so many of them that ride very badly and dangerously. I am not arguing over who is more to blame, just that, given that it is usually the cyclist rather than the motorist that gets killed, I'd think they'd be more careful.

jdj

Driving cars kills. It's not the bicyclists who endanger others but the drivers of motorized, gas-guzzling vehicles. Many of my friends and colleagues don't dare to ride bike on New York City streets. Several who shelled out a lot of money for bikes to try out the new bike paths got so scared when the came to stretches without any bike path or when care simply blocked the paths, that they stopped using their bikes. People are here prevented from exercising their rights. City planners appear still to be help captives by the car lobby. - As ocean levels rise and hurricanes increase, more and more Americans may start to learn that the automobile culture of the 20th century is not sustainable. A shift to green thinking is needed.

John

Sorry to pour cold water on the parade, but this Toronto "analysis" is dubious. The people doing the analysis are quite obviously biased. A more objective analysis of Toronto's data will show a greater proportion of at-fault bicyclists in car/bike collisions.

I'm not disputing the anecdotal evidence that many other posters cite, nor am I excusing the widespread aggressive driving in many US cities (particularly New York).

What is forever underreported is the extent to which bicyclists can change the landscape in their favor, now, today, without any government intervention. Your behavior influences other road users far more than most people believe. If you look at the lane-position behavior movies on dualchase.com and commuteorlando.com, you'll see a revelation. Take more space, get more space.

Meanwhile, play nice at stop lights. Whenever people see bicyclists blowing lights, it's very bad for all of us.

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Anon

I think the take away from this is that where there are cars, there are collisions. Motorists hit cyclists, pedestrians, other cars and stationary objects alike. If you want to avoid a collision with a car...avoid cars.

Liz

Since obviously, most of the contributors to this post are bikers, I would like to add the motorists perspective to this.
There is a huge bike club near my office and every night on my way home, the 100 or so bikers decide to take off across the road at once. They cross against traffic, block the road, refuse to ride single file and generally are so arrogant about themselves, that I pray for winter so they will be gone. There is no law that grants them the right to ride 4 abreast, at 15mph on a curving 2 lane road which has a speed limit of 40mph. They refuse to yield and yell at motorists who pass them. Because this road has no shoulder and is quite busy, in some cases there is no opportunity to pass this tribe and thus motorists are resigned to the 15mph the pack is traveling in. Hardly fair considering I worked all day and have a 45 minute commute to get home and don't have the luxury or time to belong to any club like this. They seem to think that they own the road. A good number of them load their bikes on a car rack when it is time to go home so I don't buy the saving gas bit mentioned before. If they want to travel on the road, obey the rules, and don't blame motorists for all your woes. Don't ride along the road 4 abreast talking to each other and expect the cars to get out of the way. Your conversations with other bikers are just as distracting as you claim cell phones are to drivers. Don't run lights and block intersections and traffic by riding in packs. Lose the attitude as the road is for everybody not just bikes. I could say the same thing about tractor trailers on the highways and my rights as well but they are a fact of life and as long as everyone obeys the rules, there should not be a problem.

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cnwarr00

Cyclists are a problem wherever they appear on the road. They somehow believe that they have the right of way in every circumstance. When they collide with motorists, they claim injury.

Too bad, so sad.

DNS

As someone who has spent significantly more time biking or walking than driving, I still have sympathy for both sides.

Biking on roads in the USA is incredibly stressful, to the point where I have mostly stopped doing it; I just bike on trails these days. Too many motorists simply aren't paying attention. They're too busy talking on their phones to see or remember anything besides what's immediately in front of them.

At the same time, I drive on roads alongside cyclists. When you're on a narrow, windy two-lane road with no shoulder, and some massive pickup truck comes around the corner riding the center line, while a bike is taking up a quarter of my lane, it's not a fun situation. I drive cautiously enough to handle that but, honestly, cyclists simply should not be on that road; it's suicidal.

I think real shoulders and clearly-demarcated bike lanes would make an enormous difference. I feel like the current system of lanes shared between cars and bikes is a big part of the problem.

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JES

I think I know who these "many people seem to assume that such accidents are usually the cyclist's fault" are - people who live or work around USC. I bike to work, and I swear one of these days I'm going to have a head-on collision with another bike because every day I see no less than three people ambling along beach cruisers, cell phone glued to ear, frozen coffee drink in hand, going the wrong way in the bike lane - on a two-way street in a city where it's legal to bike on the side walk.

Seriously, guys. What is your problem?? If you're going to go against traffic, do it slowly and carefully on the sidewalk, yielding to pedestrians. If you're going with traffic in the lane, get off your freaking phone and go!! And if you're in the lane and the signal is green for traffic and red for the crosswalk, you're a freaking vehicle. Go for it. If you're going to stop in the lane and wait for the cross walk, you shouldn't have been in the lane in the first place.

That said, I know the behavior of some 18-year-old college students doesn't represent cyclists at large, and I can't count the number of near-misses I've had because the cars just don't see me. I got yelled at last week by a driver who tried to make an unprotected left through me, because apparently bikes don't count as "oncoming traffic". So yeah, it's absolutely not surprising that most fatal cycling accidents are in fact the car driver's fault.

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Abe

I take more care to watch out for cyclists than motorcyclists. I go slow until it is safe to pass and I respect them and feel they should be hailed as heroes for all the reasons Kimota94 stated. I do think cyclists are invisible alot of the time, due to just traffic in general. I however, find motorcyclists to be reckless in more cases than not. I don't even like their slogan. They should take more classes on how to ride a motorcycle and also quit beign so darn loud. -Abe Illinois

SPM

I'm just starting to get into biking as Washington is fairly bike friendly, but I have to say the most irritating thing I find is the bikers who ride side by side (double or sometimes triple). There are very clearly marked bike lanes in most of the area and the riders clearly extend through them weaving in and out as far as the center roadway. Even for fellow bikers this is incredibly irritating as I have to pull around as far as the oncoming traffic lane to get around these groups.

That's my only gripe though. I completely recognize how bad cars are now towards other bikers, but being a fellow biker that's still the one activity that sets me off while traveling.

Daniel

Honesty question: how is hitting a cyclist with your door the drivers fault? Shouldn't the cyclist be riding in the street and obeying the same rules of the road as an auto? If so, why would they ever be near a car door. The only time I see this happen, is when there is traffic and a cyclist tries to pass the traffic between the cars parked and the cars waiting. Wouldn't that be illegal?
Perhaps I am uninformed.

DC cycling

As I was riding on the bike lane in DC, a cab stopped in the middle of the road. I slowed down and continued on the bike lane, but then the passenger opened the door on me and I couldn't escape.

I was FINED.

Apparently, I should have taken over on the left side.

Geoff

The study cited in the link was prepared by a group that "has been promoting cycling as a positive mode of transport in the last 10 years."

Their methodology was to read police reports and then categorize the accident. I could no mention that they used independent or unbiased catergorizers, which in my opinion casts doubt on their results.

Contrasting this study you have an analysis of San Francisco bike/car collisions by the Chronicle http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/03/22/MNU3VOB22.DTL

According to this study the police were twice as likely to find the cyclist at fault than the driver.

John

Daniel,

You raise a great question about fault in a dooring accident. There is no clear answer, because the laws are not consistent from state to state or city to city.

Many bicyclists actually want - and get -- door zone bike lanes. These guarantee there will be dooring accidents.

Blame the motorist? I'd rather not have the accident! People will always make mistakes. A bicyclist may bound into view at the last second (by riding quickly, coming around a curve, etc).

Quite a few dooring accidents are fatal. A very incomplete list of fatal dooring accidents is here: http://www.riinsrants.info/bikes/doorzone.htm

I never ride in the door zone. I sure don't want door zone bike lanes, because many people believe that if there's a bike lane, that's the safest place to ride. Riding in the bike lane is also legally required in many states.

So bike lanes that instruct people to ride dangerously are a growing problem!

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Ted from Olympia

I once read that approximately 90% of the automobile drivers who were at fault in an auto/motorcycle time/space conflict (i.e., accident) had never even ridden on a motorcycle, and so never saw the motorcycle they ran into. I would think this also applies to car/bike accidents.

It doesn't cost me much time at all to give the bicycle (or motorcycle) rider the right of way.

Think of the other guy. Drive nice.

Steve Gjerstad

There are a lot of cases where I do things that are interpreted by auto drivers as aggressive or inconsiderate riding that are actually defensive riding. For example, I've been yelled at by motorists for riding about 3 feet to the left of a row of parked cars, and I've also had many near misses - even with that 3 foot buffer - when drivers throw open a car door. Drivers need to get on a bike once in awhile just to see what cyclists are dealing with.

Whitfit

Daniel, appreciate your question. In most cities, including Toronto where I live and the study was conducted, cyclists are expected to ride along the right side of the lane, with enough room for traffic to pass. It would be nice if we had a lane wide enough to use so that we could avoid car doors, but that isn't the reality. Where there are cars parked along the street, sometimes someone will open the door into the lane enough to hit a cyclist in that part of the lane where bicycles are expected to ride.

With respect to passing in between the cars in the lane and the parked cars, the notion that cyclists are in a mini lane means that cars can pass them on the left, and that they can't pass the cars on the right.

With respect to cyclists blowing stop lights, riding the wrong way on one way streets etc..., I know that can be problematic, and try to avoid doing so myself. *However* it is also true that many of these things are car management/traffic calming devices, designed to slow cars down and keep them moving in certain ways. This can be frustrating as a cyclist because these devices cater to the problems, and also the strengths of cars. It takes a lot less energy to stop and start constantly in a car than on a bike (ok - a lot more actual energy, but none of it coming from the driver - although it makes for worse emissions so is it's own negative as well). Another example is one ways etc... where a car can go around the block easily enough, but again it is more difficult on a bike. Part of the problem is that the roads in our cities are not designed for use by bicycle, and they can be downright hostile. I think this makes it easier as a cyclist to adopt the idea that the rules don't apply to you, and many take it too far. Of course, I am just talking about commuters here. Packs of spandex-clad Lance wannabes can really cause some chaos, and I would not defend them.

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Philippe

Yeah, I totally agree with sirhcton's post. The source given does not state in anyway how many motorcycle accidents are the fault of a 4+ wheeled vehicle. It simply says that 75% of all motorcycle accidents happen with another vehicle (which could be another motorcycle or a helicopter); the other 25% is will a stationary object. No fault is described in this stat. We do learn that "most often" it's with an automobile, but that just means 50%+1.

The 66% of accidents are failures to yield right of way fact could be completely inflated when though in terms of car+motorcycle. Think of it this way, 100% of motorcycle-motocycle failures to yield get into this category because 1 of the motorcycles involved did this. So the rate could be anywhere from 34% (51% of 66%) of auto-motorcycle accidents are the autos failure to yield to a hair less than the full 66%.

That's also ignoring all other types of accidents other that right-of-way.

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