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Keeping the news in perspective

My main source of news today is the Internet; the news is no less depressing, but I can at least pick and choose the stories I want to read or videos I want to watch.

When it comes to cycling news it is not only depressing it is incredibly boring, which is depressing in itself; especially when I am looking for something to discuss here.

The stories seem to fall into three distinct categories:

1.)    Stories about improvements being made in cycling infrastructure in various cities across the US, and in other parts of the world; bike lanes added, etc. etc. Good news indeed and a good trend to observe, but of little interest to anyone but the people living in the particular city to which it applies.

2.)    Stories about cyclists and motorists not getting along; this could be a daily soap opera or reality show on TV; it would be just about as interesting too.

3.)    Stories about cyclists killed on our roads; the most depressing of all. Rarely is anyone held accountable for the death, and nothing is done except maybe a “Ghost Bike” is placed at the scene.

The problem is that this reporting of cycling deaths gives the impression that there is wholesale slaughter of cyclists, and that riding a bicycle on public roads and streets is only for those with some kind of death wish.

Those of us who take the time to look deeper into the issue find that cycling deaths are actually quite rare. So rare in fact that they are always reported at least in the local media.

Because of the Internet local stories go global and when one does a simple “Cycling” news search, up pops another cycling death piece.

The reality is that somewhere between 600 and 700 cyclists are killed on US roads each year; that is less than two each day. In a country with a population of 350 million, if less than 1% are riding bicycles that is several million cyclists on the road on any given day. And out of that number less than two will die.

There must be more people die from slipping in their bath tub each day. In the US between 90 and 100 people die in automobile crashes every day; these deaths do not make it into local newspapers, sadly there are just too many of them to be newsworthy.

The “Cyclist Killed,” stories stick around for several days and are reported multiple times in different newspapers and websites; then there are those from overseas. This gives the impression that there are more deaths than there actually are.

In the UK in 2010, 111 cyclists died; that is a little over two per week. I do not mean to make light of these figures, but simply to get them in perspective.

The UK has a population of 62 million, in an area of 94,060 sq. miles. Compare that to California with 163,707 sq. miles and a population of 37.7 million. Incidentally, in 2010 in California, 99 cyclists died, only slightly less than the UK.

Also when you look at statistics, the majority of people getting killed on bicycles are the ones doing all the wrong things. Riding at night without lights, riding on the wrong side of the road, or riding on the sidewalk.

In other words it is mostly the inexperienced cyclists who get themselves in trouble. Sadly, children between 6 and 14 years old are a large part of the annual figures.

Even though in many cases an automobile/bicycle crash is due to an inattentive driver; experience and defensive riding will often keep the cyclist out of danger.

And not meaning to start another helmet debate; head injury statistics are flawed because it is mostly the experienced cyclists who are wearing the helmets, but avoiding crashes in the first place. Whereas, it is the inexperienced, more accident prone riders who are not wearing helmets.

So if like me you read these daily cycling death stories, keep the facts in perspective and enjoy your ride. Let your loved ones who worry about you know that you will be fine; because I have heard that “Worry” is like praying for something you don’t want to happen.


Some more reading, facts and figures:

Pedestrian and Bike Info

A previous article I wrote

A piece about the Australian Helmet Law



Reader Comments (14)

That's odd. I just clicked Google News for "cycling" and the infrastructure and deaths stuff was near the bottom of the first page. I saw lots on the sport and doping trials ahead of that.

September 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJohn B

I was generalizing, I rarely find anything really interesting. One of the best sources I have found for racing news Is DougReport.com

September 20, 2012 | Registered CommenterDave Moulton

Interesting that experienced cyclists are mostly the ones wearing the helmets, considering that they also are the ones most likely to understand the limitations of same, and also not to harbor exaggerated fear about the dangers of cycling.

September 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSteve A

A lot of experienced cyclists also race or do club rides, and most cycling clubs require helmets to be worn. You get used to it, and keep doing it.

I don't race, but I wear a helmet out of habit.

September 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterYohann

I read there were about 436 bicycle/car accidents in Wash DC in 2010. Not the area, just DC.

September 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSJX426

That's 436 accidents not deaths.

September 21, 2012 | Registered CommenterDave Moulton

One thing to note is finding the information about deaths per hour of activity. Cycling compares with motor vehicle use fairly well. Worse than passenger cars but better than pickups and SUVs... Motorcycles and horseback riding are much worse...

Also if you believe that about half of all adult bike users fatalities are cyclist fault, I believe stats show about 40%, with 40% driver, 20% who knows, I can cut my risk down by quite a bit just by following the law on the road. I currently ride upwards of 6K miles per year and have avoided collisions. That is not to say I haven't had to react quickly to danger while riding but I have to do that while driving also.... In 40+ years behind the wheel I've only been hit twice so I a great driver, or highly skilled, or most likely, just plane lucky.

Also you have to remember that stats are for the general population, not the individual.


September 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRalph

Not sure that I have shared this TRUE story with this list before, BUT this happened in Parker,Co a year or so. I was a rest stop and a chap roared up on a shiny black Harley Motor bike, Full leathers etc and NO helmet! A woman was wating in a BLACK BMW SUV The chap gets off his Harley opens up the rear hatch and pulls out a Pinarello Dogma ROAD BIKE! he proceeds to take off his leathers etc, and change in to full kit cycling gear, He then doffs a CYCLING HELMET hops on the bike and takes off down the trail! NOW something is WRONG with this picture right! But this is the truth wish I had my video camera to record this. ANY COMMENTS? In my mind a real 'berk' or 'git'. Dave, explain mate what the two words mean Maybe a real tugoh would suit?

September 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Crump

I'm in agreement with this post, though things like a spike in cycling deaths - such as a recent one in my area mostly caused by motorists drifting into bike lanes - will shake up even the most confident cyclists. There's no way I could share the ideas in this post with local cyclists when they are emotionally upset (and rightfully so) at the recent spike in cycling deaths.


While I believe one death is a death too many, at the same time people get fixated on the raw numbers of deaths, yet do nothing to try to put them in perspective in terms of overall population (3 million here in Orange County ) or total hours cycling (huge with the good weather and cycling population). Articles such as the one I linked above may provide some well-needed awareness, but I fear that is more than offset by the dangerizing of cycling and the proliferation of questionable advice.

September 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBikingBrian

The four worst states for cycling deaths are Florida, California, Texas, and New York. They are also the four states that are the epitome of the “Car Culture.” I think there is a clue there.

Cyclists as a group are outraged at the number of casualties; the general public should also be outraged at the number of all traffic related deaths; but they are mostly indifferent. There are more motorists die in one week in the US than cyclists in a whole year.

When public attitudes change, law enforcement will change, and so too will the car culture and the culture of speed change. If the time ever comes when children can safely ride their bicycles to school the roads will be safer for everyone.


September 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDave Moulton

In regard to what John Crump posted above, it's all about fashion.

Wife driving a BMW SUV - Fashion!
Husband riding Harley with no helmet - Fashion!
Husband riding high end road bike with helmet - Fashion!

There appear to be two types of Harley riders, those that wear no helmets in the name of "freedom" and those who wear those cop-style half-helmets. Seldom do you see one wearing a full helmet like the crotch rocker guys. But, hey, at least he does wear a bicycle helmet when he rides his Pinarello, even if it is just for appearances.

(Don't even get me started on women who wear their helmets perched on the backs of their heads so they can show off their hair, all in the name of fashion.)

September 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJohn B

As a 4th grade teacher I preach bicycle safety all the time - and it seems to work. My students ride on the right side of the road (California), stop at stop signs, and wear their helmets correctly. They mostly avoid sidewalks too although sometimes the traffic is just too dense, too fast and there is no shoulder (Los Altos Hills).

Our sidewalks have another problems - horses. People ride everywhere and a row of five or six mares or geldings in a row can be tough to pass safely.

Winter is approaching, along with switching off Daylight Savings and hopefully we can get everyone "lighted up."

September 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJames Thurber

One final comment about death and how society can accept some deaths as routine. Approximately 3,000 people died on 9/11. That represents approximately 28.3 days of automobile traffic deaths in the United States alone.

We will never forget 9/11 (nor should we) but why dismiss the atrocious numbers of people killed, maimed, crippled - whose lives are destroyed - by this murderous, two ton plus weapon we've created . . . just so we can get from Point A to Point B faster.

Ahhh, but let's not forget, it's our "freedom" (car manufacturer's favorite advertising slogan). The older I get the more contemptuous I become of the automobile and everything it stands for.

September 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJames Thurber

You got it exactly right JT.

September 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJack
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