It’s understandable that when a cyclist gets killed or injured the cycling community and cycling organizations devote a lot of attention to the details, with calls for equal justice or improved safety. Part of the appeal of such coverage to readers who cycle may also be related to the feeling: “There but for the grace of God…”. Yes, it’s personal. We all know how vulnerable we can be, and we can often identify quite closely with the victims in such articles. But, it’s also important to keep in mind the big picture and realize that inordinate attention can lead to a perception that riding a bike is more dangerous than it really is.
A new research study from England titled “Comparative fatality risk for different travel modes by age, sex, and deprivation” (freely available from link) examines the issue from the perspective of specific demographic groups. It highlights some aspects that many have called out before:
- Young men are safer cycling than driving
- Men have higher fatality rates than women for cycling, driving, and walking
- Pedestrians and cyclists have similar risks
- Injury rates of people driving are lowered in part because they have privileged access to much safer built environments (freeways)
We still lack the kind of data we need for perfect denominator adjusted comparisons among travel modes and trip purposes and the article by Feleke and colleagues highlights some of these limitations. However, we do know that the absolute risks for cycling are low and the net benefits of active travel to the individual and the environment far outweigh the risks.
In 2015 (the latest year for which there is a full report), there were a total of 118 crashes involving a person on a bike in Madison. Of those, 98 led to injuries, and 2 people were killed.
Ghost bike commemorating David Nieft
It’s OK to mourn a senseless loss. Safety and travel stress can always be improved and it’s usually the person driving the 2-ton motor vehicle that delivers the fatal blow. But don’t let these sad stories create an unjustified climate of fear. Enjoy your ride!