I recently came across data from two different sources that sheds some light on the causes of bicycle crashes. The first is a report from the Twin Cities Bike Club of Minnesota. The second is a report prepared by the city of Fort Collins, Colorado. While the two sets of data covered different time periods and were compiled in different ways, they are interesting to look at.
The Twin Cities Bike Club has a Safety Committee that compiles records of all of its members’ bike crashes throughout the year. The most recent data is from 2009. In all, 34 crashes were reported, and they fell into three categories:
Falling from a bike, 23; bike-bike collisions, 5; and bike-car collisions, 6.
The falls ran the gamut of causes, from silly to unfortunate. My favorite: “Rider was drinking from camelback with one hand and braking with the other while negotiating a curve, went down.” Other falls happened because of trouble with pedals and cleats, skidding on wet pavement, going off a paved bike trail, and handlebar grips coming loose.
Falls aren’t a laughing matter, though. Falls can hurt.
In Fort Collins, the city’s report didn’t count falls from bikes. It focused solely on car-bike crashes, with an eye to making the city’s streets safer for commuters. It covers police reports filed between Jan. 1, 2007-June 30, 2009. In all, 354 bike-car crashes were studied. The conclusion: Both motorists and cyclists share the blame.
The biggest cause of bike-car crashes may be considered somewhat of a surprise: Bikes traveling against traffic and ending up in a broadside collision with a car. These kinds of crashes accounted for more than half of the fatal or severe injury crashes, and 60 percent of all crashes, in the report. A broadside is a crash when a bike hits a car on a perpendicular road.
Those of us who ride regularly might be surprised to learn that most of the broadsides happened when the bike was riding against traffic. Part of the reason might be that Fort Collins, a city of about 140,000 people, is home to Colorado State University, which enrolls 26,300 students. Many of these students commute to campus by bike. The city’s bike coordinator says the crash data shows that university students could benefit from bicycle education efforts.
Other car-bike crashes included the overtaking, or “right hook” crash, where a car passes a bike, then turns right. Those were 13 percent of the crashes. Sideswipes, where bikes and cars were going in either the same or opposite directions, accounted for seven percent.
The Twin Cities crash data is less clear about the causes of bike-car crashes. Only one seemed to fit the “right hook” description, and none apparently were broadsides. Inattention by cyclists was the evident cause of some crashes: A rider was hit in a right turn lane, and another rider crashed into the back of a school bus when the bus suddenly stopped for railroad tracks.
So, what do we learn from these very different reports? Both bikers and motorists have lots of room for improvement. Clearly, if you ride predictably and obey the rules of the road, your chances of tangling with a car diminish. But you must be alert and attentive all the while you are on your bike. It’s not just the cars that can knock you down. It’s yourself, too.