The League of American Bicyclists recently released a report on bicyclist fatalities and some of the results are pretty interesting, in that they greatly differ from the results of other (sometimes questionable studies).
Between February 2011 to February 2013, the organization sifted through hundreds of cases from across the country. Using newspaper and television reports and blogs, they were able to get a closer look at 628 individual cases and tease out some patterns.
That's pretty close to half the fatalites over that period, considering that lately the average number has been a little under 700 per year.
1. In 40 percent of the cases, the victim was struck from behind.
In most cases that I've seen, when a cyclist is hit from behind, the driver is at fault. Sometimes the cyclist is riding at night, in ninja-mode, but that is not the usual. So, by far the biggest group is one where driver's are at fault in most cases. Another 6% are driver failed to yield, compared to 2% for cyclist failed to yield and so cyclists would really need to be overrepresented in every other category for it not to turn out that drivers are more often at fault. This is something the report doesn't try to determine, but it certainly raises eyebrows.
In addition, there were 236 fatal crashes where a factor was reported for the driver. In 86 cases (36%) the driver was reported to have committed hit and run, which doesn't mean they were at fault for the crash, but it's still a pretty heinous crime. There were also 28 (12%) reports of driving under the influence (which may overlap with some of the other groups listed above) and 101 (42%) where they were reported to have been operating their vehicle in a careless or inattentive manner.
For cyclists, the most common factors reported, out of 94, were wrong way cycling (22%), failure to yield (17%) and riding on the sidewalk (9%). For the last, it would be helpful to know how what percentage of bike miles are on the sidewalk (especially since children are over-represented in both fatalities and sidewalk cycling).
2. In the 150 cases where helmet use was cited in a crash account, 57 percent of the victims were wearing a helmet.
This is WAY below the usually cited numbers from FARS data that is often reported in the media (and the report notes this as well), such as in this recent Post article
Between 1994 and 2010, at least 70 percent of the cyclists killed in the U.S. each year weren’t wearing helmets, and in many of those years, the proportion was more than 90 percent, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Considering that studies place helmet use rates at around 50%, a helmet use rate of 57% for cycling fatalities would undermine the claim that helmets save lives (even if that is true, and more data is obviously needed, helmets might still reduce injuries or even pain). Regardless, it does bring the FARS data further into question.
This is not particularly surprising:
Working from press accounts to compile data on bike crashes can be tricky, because as the League notes, stories tend to be told from the survivor’s perspective. Basic facts like who had the right of way are often overlooked, and crashes are often presented in a manner that exculpates the motorist.