Heightened interest in sport raises questions about safety
12:00 AM CDT on Tuesday, August 30, 2005
By PAULA LAVIGNE / The Dallas Morning News
In the past four years, at least 22 people have died in bicycle accidents in the Dallas metro area – including the head-on cycling collision that recently killed an Allen man.
The accidents have garnered attention both in the news and in cycling forums, sparking concern that such accidents are on the rise.
But a Dallas Morning News analysis of bike fatality and injury data shows the opposite is true.
Deaths and injuries are down nationwide, and bicycle-related deaths in Texas have held steady for more than two decades.
• In 1981, there were 961 bike fatalities nationwide. That fell to 767 in 2002. Fifty-five Texas cyclists died in 1981, compared with 57 in 2002, with an average of 58 per year during that time period.
To put that into perspective, in both 1985 and 2002, there was one cycling fatality for every 50,000 cyclists nationwide.
• Recently, cycling injuries nationwide have also declined, dropping by one-third from 662,474 in 2000 to 492,900 in 2003, according to numbers from the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.
• And few injuries – less than 4 percent – require hospitalization, according to an analysis of about 7 million injuries from 1990 to 2002.
The accident in Plano that killed 52-year-old Michael Mahoney and injured Jordan Muller, 37, of Richardson baffled cyclists and noncyclists alike because it rarely happens.
Out of about 2,700 bike fatalities from 1990 to 2002 nationwide, only about 20 were identified as collisions between two bicycles, according to a Dallas Morning News analysis of data from the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Most involved a motor vehicle.
Increase in interest
A greater interest in cycling could explain the assumption that accidents are up, said Craig Raborn, program manager with the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center in Chapel Hill, N.C.
An average 315,000 viewers tuned in to Outdoor Life Network's coverage of the Tour de France to watch Texan Lance Armstrong win his seventh-straight title, according to Nielsen Media Research.
Bike trails and bike lanes are growing in popularity nationwide, and bicycle advocacy groups are active in state and national politics.
"When you participate in an activity, and you hear about someone killed ... it sticks in your mind," Mr. Raborn said, adding that news of the Plano fatality had already reached him in North Carolina.
Elizabeth Preston, spokeswoman for the League of American Bicyclists, agreed: "Crashes are what people talk about."
"If they did a front-page story of every person who died in a car accident and talked about the tragic ways people died ... and how the accident could have been prevented, they would be a lot more afraid to drive," she said.
Despite this growing awareness, there are actually fewer Americans cycling today than there were several years ago, according to reports by two trade associations that study outdoor recreation.
The National Sporting Goods Association estimates ridership at 40 million in 2004, down from about 51 million in 1985, according to a survey of cycling participation. There were 2.8 million cyclists in Texas in 2004 – the same as almost 20 years ago – even though the state's population grew by about 41 percent over that time period.
The Outdoor Industry Association reported an almost 5 percent decrease in cycling participants from 1998 to 2004.
Bicycle sales have also been fairly flat, said Mike Baker, spokesman for the National Bicycle Dealers Association. About 13 million bikes were sold in 2004.
"There is much more competition for people's attention and a lot more opportunities for exercise," Mr. Baker said. "Everything from PlayStation to snowboarding to computers to television is capitalizing people's time."
'Becoming more careful'
There are several other reasons fatalities are on the decline, Mr. Raborn and Ms. Preston said. Increased attention is likely among the biggest.
"Cyclists are becoming more careful, and cars are becoming more aware," Ms. Preston said. "People are communicating more, and we believe there's better information out there. ... [Cycling] is an inherently safe activity as long as you're riding defensively."
Mr. Raborn said the federal government has increased its funding – from $22.9 million in 1992 to $422.7 million in 2003 – for bicycle-friendly highway improvements, such as making wider bike lanes and adjusting the height of railings on bridges.
"Better facilities make it easier for more people to ride and, at the same time, reduce the number of crashes that occur as a result of road hazards," he said.
Helmets have become more common, he said, and more cities have passed mandatory helmet laws. More organizations are offering bicycle safety classes as well, he said.
One example is the Texas Bicycle Coalition in Austin, which has provided training for about 400,000 children statewide in bike safety, said executive director Robin Stallings.
"A recent bike industry study said that people who cycle as children are more likely to be cyclists as adults," he said. "If they learn how to do it properly as children, they're probably not going to forget how to do it properly [as adults]." E-mail email@example.com
Attached photo by VERNON BRYANT/DMN
Participants in a Plano bike race passed police outlines of bicycles on Aug. 16, two days after a cycling accident killed one man and injured another.
Summary of a Biking By The Numbers table that is not online but is included in the print edition.
Despite more concern about cycling - and cycling accidents - the number of injuries and fatalities has fallen both in Texas and nationwide.
From 1990 to 2002, more than 7 million people ended up in the emergency room after being injured in an incident involving a bicycle. Fortunately, almost all of those cyclists were able to leave the ER after being treated there for the injuries according to the Cosumer Products Safety Commission and the National Center For Injury Prevention And Control. But 95.1% were treated and released, and 3.7% were hospitalized. Of the remaining 1.2%, the total of those dying in transit is unknown. Injury totals were compiled from a sample of emergency room visits.
Nationwide, the number of accidents involving bicycles has decreased.
Interesting article. I did a little extrapolating on the numbers here. It states there were 51MM riders in 1985 and 40MM riders in 2004. Assuming the decrease in deaths was steady from 1981 to 2002 was constant we can see that deaths dropped at a rate of about 9.24/year. Using this we can estimate the deaths for 1985 at 924 and for 2004 at 748.5. This would give us a rate of 1.812 deaths per 100,000 riders in 1985 and 1.871 deaths per 100,000 riders in 2004. A slight increase in death rate. How much of that can be attributed to error and how meaningful that increase is open to debate, but it certainly seems that it has gotten any safer out there.