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Irrational Fear

If I do a search on the web for cycling related stories, as I often do, it is most times depressing; many of the stories are related to cycling deaths.

If one is not careful this can give a person a totally distorted view of cycling and the risks cyclists take. It is probably the reason many people who would ride a bicycle, are afraid to do so.

If you are a cyclist you cannot allow fear to take over your thoughts, and one has to constantly push negative thoughts from your head. Most people believe in the power of positive thinking, and that success and good things happen to those who constantly think good thoughts.

By the same rule, if every time you ride your bike you think, “Is today the day a car will hit me,” chances are at some point a car will hit you.

It is not so much thinking those thoughts; one has a hard time not to sometimes with all the stories of cyclist killed on a daily basis. The important thing is to be aware of those thoughts and constantly push them from your mind.

One has to get the whole picture in perspective. 32,788 people died in automobile accidents in 2010, the lowest figure since 1950. That is still almost 90 people a day who got out of bed in the morning climbed in their car without a second thought, and by the end of the day were dead.

In that same 24 hour period less than two cyclists were killed. The difference is most of the 90 people who died in their cars did not get a mention in their local newspapers, but the two cyclists did.

For the last decade the number of cyclists who die on US roads each year has fluctuated around 650 and 700. (Less than 2 per day.) That is about the same as the number of people die in the US every year from accidental gun discharges.

Is there any gun owner who wakes in the morning to wonder, “Is today the day I will accidentally shoot myself?” Does anyone consider any one of us could be accidentally shot by someone else; of course not.

Also close to the cyclist death rate is the number of people who choke of a piece of food and die. Over 500 people drown each year in swimming pools. Over a 1,000 die from falling down stairs or steps.

So the next time you prepare for a bike ride and a nagging little thought that you might get hit enters your head; ask yourself, would I have these same thoughts of death and doom, as I walk down a flight of steps, or that I might choke while I am tucking into a nice juicy steak in a restaurant?

I refuse to let irrational fear stop me from doing what I love, that is to ride my bike on the road. I don’t take chances, and I choose the safest routes. I also look at statistics and I like my odds of survival.  

If I consider the odds of getting hit by a car today is about the same as being accidentally shot; maybe I should wear a bullet-proof vest along with my helmet.   



Reader Comments (20)


The great tibetan Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche said,"True fearlessness is not the reduction of fear, but going beyond fear."

And when on road be Mindful Every Moment.
Be mindful. Mindfulness is about consciousness in knowing what you are doing at the moment .

October 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBkk

I agree Dave. There was a time when I put a fair amount of time into collating and commenting on reports of cyclists' deaths and injuries due to road trauma.

And then I realised there was already more than enough “news” about bike deaths. There are so many other good and positive things that I have to say about cycling, and the discussion of cycling-related deaths just didn't fit in with that. So I deleted just about everything I'd said about individual cases of road trauma, and rarely comment about that sort of "news" these days.

October 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTreadly and Me

I definitely agree that cylists need to be able to ride without irrational fear on the roads.

However, you can't deny that the PROPORTION of cyclists who (a) have accidents, and (b) die from cycling related accidents, is higher from the proportion of people who drive and have accidents and/or die from them. I'm not American and don't know how gun ownership compares to cycling numbers, but I'd wager that it's higher too.

There IS danger on the roads, and this fear can not be ignored, but fear can be used to help us ride defensively and safely. The broader picture is reducing the CAUSE for this fear, that is, driver education and road use policy. Alas, this sort of manipulation of statistics can only serve to inflame the people who don't understand cyclists, which might make it LESS safe for us on the roads overall.

October 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

I've had this problem at times, Dave, as I would guess most cyclists have. Odd thing about it? Within 2-3 minutes of saddling up it disappears in the sheer joy and exhilaration of being self powered.

October 13, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterskylab

FINALLY comments that have some merrit! I am glad that my posts about fear have produced response. NOW What to do about this? We are not going to get laws passed to protect cyclist. Three feet, 15mph will not do one bit of good, MOST motorist are NOT aware the we cyclists are on the roads, this is the ONLY way to protect us. "Its all about VISABILITY STUPID!" As Bill Clinton would have said, Lets hear some suggestions how cyclist can make them selves MORE VISIBLE! How about the flag that I suggested before, How about flashing beacons on our helmets, like some school buses have..How about flashing signs warning motorist that cyclists are on tthe roads. The poor sod that got killed a few days ago was on a quiet country road ONLY he and the motorist, " I didnt see him" WHY? BECAUSE he was NOT visible. Same with the three gals training in Boulder a few weeks ago (One killed two serious injurys 30K high ends bikes trashed}, riding in a pace line. Full race gear on, SUV going to wards them pulled out to pass a slower car and drove head on into them, "DIDNT SEE THEM!" WHY?they where NOT visible ENOUGH. BRIGHT vest like the highway crews wear? any other suggestions, All this is pain I know, who wants to go to these steps to ride a bloody bike, BUT its worth it ISNT IT? I am ALSO surprised about the lack of RAGE in the comments so far, Are you ALL NOT concerned about this?

October 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGRUMPY Crump

Always enjoy your thought-provoking posts, Dave. This one really touched a nerve. I'm tired of cyclists who fascinated by the death and destruction stories. It's not constructive, and it feeds the fears of those who might ride their bikes but are scared to do so. Totally agree with skylab's comments, too. Great post.

October 13, 2011 | Unregistered Commentergetspoked

The root cause, from my perspective, is a lack of disciplined thought process of the person responsible for the "accident". I don't like using the term "accident" when the event was caused by a human being. It is an excuse for not thinking pro-actively.

Cars don't swerve out of there lane "accidently" unless there is a mechanical failure. Guns don't discharge accidently unless there is a mechanical failure. Somebody made a mistake in either case because they did not think about what they were doing and assessed the risks in the action.

What is the minimum requirement to be visable on a bike when the other person is mentally blind? Who is responsible, the bike rider who didn't make himself visable enough or the irresponsible dirver?

Part of the reason each generation does not progress very far is that they repeat history from the micro level to the macro because most do not learn from others mistakes or success.

October 13, 2011 | Unregistered Commentersjx426

Love this post! And sjx has some great points to add... "Mentally blind" is a great way to describe those who hit cyclists! There is no way, if you are looking at the road at all, that you simply wouldn't see someone on their bicycle. Increasing safety for cyclists isn't about making us more visible, it's about stopping motorists from being lazy about keeping their eyes vigilantly where they belong: on the road! As for the fear aspect, I agree. We can't live in fear or we'll never accomplish anything.

Again, great post Dave!

October 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKenny Christensen

I hope we can ride together some day. Enjoy the season, as it seasons the ride.

October 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTom Knoblauch

I'm one of those people who collects and shares bike wreck reports, not to spread fear but to try to prevent any more wrecks through education of how to use the built environment. What I would really like is Dutch-style bicycle infrastructure that separates bicycles from cars, and laws that make hitting a pedestrian or cyclist lead to loss of the motor vehicle, with death leading to permanent loss of driving privileges. I would also like to see driving without a license treated the same as illegal possession of a weapon.

Cars are deadly weapons, defined as WMD by the Geneva Convention, and it is about time we started treating them like that again.

October 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterOpus the Poet

WOW! Constructive comments at last

October 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGRUMPY Crump

I find NOT riding to be a greater threat to my health and sanity than any threats Out There.

October 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTim Joe Comstock

Many cars have daytime running lights to make them more visible. Wouldn't it make sense to run lights front and back whenever we're on the road to HELP make it easier to break through the mist of driving monotony many vehicle drivers end up in. It's our resposponsibility also.

October 14, 2011 | Unregistered Commentercraiger

Lights, rules, laws are meaningless until you have a justice system that recognizes vulnerability. Drivers of motorized vehicles can operate irresponsibly and rarely does our system of justice hold them accountable.

Numerous examples but here is one of the latest: http://www.kirotv.com/news/29484165/detail.html
"Przychodzen was hit TWICE (my emphasis) by the 18-year-old driver of a pickup truck when the driver veered sharply onto the shoulder of Juanita Drive. Przychodzen was riding on the shoulder, and was run-over from behind. After months of investigation, King County prosecutors decided there was no reason to charge the driver with vehicular homicide. Police decided the driver would face a $42 fine."

Irrational fear or reality?

Every morning when my sons hop on their bikes to ride to school my greatest fear is that it may be the last time they hug and kiss me goodbye. Am I irrational or is our system of justice irrational?

October 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJack

Four riders lycra carbon etc, pace line on Parker Rd hgy83 Parker Co going like the clappers! Yellow reflective vest and flashing RED lights on back of bikes! VERY VISIBLE to say the least

October 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGRUMPY Crump

NEWS FLASH! Parker Colorado. English senior Citizen run over on bike path. It was reported that a Parker senior citizen was run over whilst riding his old Brit bike by a young female jogger pushing a baby stroller! She was citited for not giving the required Colorado law THREE feet clearence, plus hit and Run. He was citied for unlawfull chasing! and was transported to the local hospital for over excitment. His only comment was "Aint safe anywhere no more wish I could have caught up with her"

October 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGRUMPY Crump


That is still almost 90 people a day who got out of bed in the morning climbed in their car without a second thought, and by the end of the day were dead.

In that same 24 hour period less than two cyclists were killed.

If you want to compare the odds, probabilities, or rates of different events you have to situate those numbers in a context which allows for their comparison as your link to The most common causes of death due to injury in the United States does. And, the ratio you get can be different depending on the referent used. For example Most Common Causes calculates the odds by:

One year odds are approximated by dividing the 2000 population (275,306,000) by the number of deaths. Lifetime odds are approximated by dividing the one-year odds by the life expectancy of a person born in 2000 (76.9 years).

I've not been successful tracking down the primary source but, reportedly, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation undertook a study which found:

...there were just 0.07 fatalities per every million miles traveled by the state’s bicyclists, versus 0.02 fatalities for every million miles logged by cars...

That would suggest the odds of a cycling fatality to be three and a half times higher than a automobile fatality. But, not unlike what an insurance actuarial table might suggest, the more miles traveled by bike the greater a rider's exposure.

Point being, there's lots of ways to calculate the risk, and the referent used (total population, million miles logged) as the basis for comparison, can give you different results.

None of which changes your essential point, Dave. There is a risk in traveling by bicycle, as there is a risk in lots of other modes of travel, and all kinds of other activities in which people engage. One needs to cycle smart and think about how visible they are (or, aren't). I hate seeing cyclists out in muted grays and blues which simply blend them into the pavement. Is my bias for that screaming yellow-green color, that does not occur in nature, evident? Motorists should expect us, and look for us, but - sadly - they don't always. Still, there are scarier activities. The cite I linked to asserts:

...the fatality rate for motorcyclists is roughly 35 times higher than for car drivers.

October 15, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterbystander

Comparing deaths per mile traved is flawed in that cars are faster and cover many more miles. A motorist might commute 50 or 60 miles to work, it would be rare for a bicycle commutor to log those kind of miles. Time spent traveling is a more realistic method of comparing. I fully realise there are more motoring deaths because there are more motorists than cyclists.

October 15, 2011 | Registered CommenterDave Moulton

Bystander..As in my previous posts Its ALL ABOUT VISABILITY! We have to make motorist SEE US. Even then we are in risk, but VISABILTY will help. As above the four riders that I saw to day, had bright yellow vests over there lycra. IT WORKED for me at least, the red lights flashing a plus. Riding with groups also helps. I have never figured out WHY oh WHY do motorcyclist NOT wear helmets. Last year I was at a rest stop in Parker. Co (THIS IS A TRUE STORY) A Harley rider pulled in NO BLOODY HELMET. went over to a staion wagon pulled out a Full carbon zillion speed bike, changed into his racing gear, THEN PUT ON A BLOODY BIKE HELMET and rode down the trail! You go figure that one out

October 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGRUMPY Crump

The best rate of risk is based on death/injury per hours of activity. Regular cars are safer than bicycles. SUV's and pickup trucks are very close to cycling death rates. Motorcyclist and horse riders are the worst.

You can't ride in fear and I notice a marked lack close passing behavior when I am further out in the lane. You need to be where motorists are looking. As for the distracted and drunk being visible can only help.

Here in my town 2 cops have been hit by drunks, in patrol vehicles during daylight hours.

What are you going to do?

October 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRalph

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