Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Bicyclists, pointed to the competition for road space and distracted drivers as causes for the uptick in fatalities.
Clarke said the number of bike deaths has fluctuated over the years.
"While the increase is regrettable, it hasn't set off any alarm bells," Clarke said. "We're not in the same situation as the motorcycle community, where there's been a steady increase."
Digging deeper in the fact sheet. Deaths among the poorly named Pedalcyclists (includes people on bikes, trikes, unicycles, big wheels etc...) group is up 2.1% and injuries are up a shocking 21% between 2007 and 2008.
What's missing in the fact sheet is the change in bicycle miles traveled. A lot of news reports last year pointed to empirical evidence that cycling was on the rise. So if bicycling miles doubled and deaths went up by 2.1% then that might be a good sign. But if miles traveled stayed flat, that would be bad news. The NHTSA do a good job of breaking down automobile deaths and injuries by VMT, but they don't provide any sense of the denominator for any other class. Nor do they provide helmet stats, cyclist alcohol stats or number of crashes - like they do for auto crashes (for auto crashes they give seat belt data but not helmet data obviously).
There is a report that goes withe the fact sheet - (here's the 2006 one). What the report adds is to break down deaths as a percentage of the population, by age and sex; by location (only half as often in intersections than in nonintersections - page 149) and deaths by time of day. They report they types of vehicles that kill cyclists - mostly passenger cars and light trucks. They also track causes (related factors) but they don't seem to tell us which person - cyclist or driver - was responsible. For example, the #1 related factor is "Failure to yield right of way" but we don't know who failed to yield, so that's less useful than it could be.
You can find some alcohol information in third report "Bicyclists and Other Cyclists."
In 33 percent of the crashes, either the driver or the cyclist was reported to have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 grams per deciliter (g/dL) or higher. Lower alcohol levels (BAC .01 to .07 g/dL) were reported in an additional 10 percent of crashes. Over one-fourth (31%) of the pedalcyclists killed had a BAC of .01 g/dL or higher, and nearly one-fourth (25%) had a BAC of .08 g/dL or higher.
But we don't know what percentage of drivers has a high BAC (more than 8% and less than 33%). It also reports fatalities by state. There's also a pedestrian report.
Regardless of the change in deaths per BMT, which is unknown, I think everyone would like to see fewer deaths and would agree that the increase in injuries is somewhat alarming (it's higher than it's been since '98 but still well below the levels in the 80's).