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Old 06-14-13, 09:26 AM   #1
RubeRad
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Biking safer than driving?

Here's an interesting post by my man, Mr. Money Mustache. If you've never read him before, he's an early-retirement blogger that focuses on lower consumption, particularly cycling instead of driving ("if I had to strip it down as far as possible, down to just one single action, and I wasn’t allowed to talk about anything else, the choice would still be simple: “Ride a Bike”. link)

But that link is not my point right now; Here's today's new post

Myself, I think his math is a little sketchy; I'd be curious what others think. But there are some good statistics; lemme quote:

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First of all, in the entire United States (Population about 310 million), there were only 623 cyclist deaths in the year 2010. For perspective, there were about 26,000 deaths each due to each of “falls” and “alcohol”, and 35,000 caused by car crashes. So for every cyclist who dies on a bike, 56 die in cars. Out of the MMM readership alone (roughly 0.1% of the US population), 3 people die in car accidents every month.

But of course, we are a nation of Car Clowns, so as ridiculous as it seems, we cover a lot more miles in cars than on bikes. Still, we cyclists put in a good show given our small numbers, pumping out about Nine Billion Miles on our rippling leg muscles.

Dividing 623 into 9,000,000,000, we end up with a cycling fatality rate of about 6.9 per 100 million miles. According to the NHTSA, that same statistic is 1.11 for cars in 2010.

So on the surface, it looks like cycling in the US is about 6.2 times more dangerous than car-driving per mile (note that this is dropping as cycling grows in popularity – in the Netherlands, cycling risk is way down around 1 per 100 million). One of the goals of this blog is to help make the same thing happen here.

But we’re not done yet. First of all, let’s compare a cyclist at a comfortable commuting pace of 12MPH, with a car driver on the interstate at 75MPH. Now, the risk per hour is equal, because the car is covering 6.2 times more miles than the cyclist. So the accident risk per hour of the two activities is roughly equal.
After that point, is when I think the math starts to get sketchy. But near the end, there's this:

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Remember the US cycling fatality ratio of 6.9 per 100 million miles? That’s with our current group of cyclists: a disproportionate number of children under 14 with no driver training, homeless people, DUI-convicts who have lost their license, competitive road racers and downhill mountain bikers, and the less than 1% of adults who actually ride bikes to work like they should be doing. When you and I ride our bikes, we stop at the red lights and stop signs, obey the lane markings and use arm signals, use bright lights and reflective clothing at night. We plan our routes to pick the safest roads and paths. By following these steps, our own crash rate can be much lower than the national average. Probably even safer than the average for cars.
So (at least) two questions I'm interested in; do you think that risk per hour, or per mile, is the more fair statistic? One thing driving (no pun intended) this issue is that Americans live far from work, so they drive a long time; if everybody lived within bike-commuting distance to work, then car- vs bike-commuting would be easier to compare.

Also, does anybody have any thoughts (or perhaps even facts?) about relative risk to safety-conscious bike-commuters, vs the general population of cyclists? How much do these lights, helmets, reflective vests, etc actually keep us safer than other cyclists?
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Old 06-14-13, 09:46 AM   #2
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My take on it is that there is not an appreciable difference in the safety of driving vs cycling - I don't think that we have good enough data to really dig further. If you look at the cyclist fatality rates, they are disproportionately affecting people doing stupid stuff like riding the wrong way, riding at night with no lights etc - if you remove those from the statistics and ask what is more hazardous - driving a car with a reasonable amount of skill and caution, or riding a bicycle with a reasonable amount of skill and caution, my guess is that there isn't a huge difference.

BUT, add in the premature death rates from lung disease caused by pollution, from diabetes and heart disease that could be reduced by exercise, etc, and I suspect that you will find that the death toll attributable to motor vehicles is much larger than the 100 deaths per day that come from crashes.
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Old 06-14-13, 09:48 AM   #3
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I dunno. I think we over analyze it sometimes. The death rate is the same for everybody. 1 person, 1 death. And I'm mainly interested in only 1 person's death, mine.

That said, I think cycling is more dangerous than driving. But that is relative to our riding, driving, situational awareness skills. But we wear helmets on bikes for a reason. We don't wear them in a car, bus or train, why? Because subconsciously feel safer. Doesn't mean we are really safer but we must feel safer. I know I've been in auto accidents where the same impact would have caused horrible injuries or death and came out with only minor bruises. OTOH, I've been hit by cars on my bicycle and came thru with only bruising and road rash.
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Old 06-14-13, 10:06 AM   #4
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Interesting math. Personally, I think risk/hour is the fairest comparison. However, the way he gets there is far from fair IMHO. He uses 75mph, which is a speed I rarely see while driving and I would never average 75mph; 30mph might be a fairer number to use. Since it obviously takes us longer to commute by bike vs car, then the statistic should actually be skewed in the other direction, which would make biking even more dangerous.

Furthermore, I don't believe "professional commuters" are safer than recreational riders, since the commuters are more likely to be on the hazardous roads, riding in traffic, etc. Maybe lights and reflective vests can off set the additional danger of taking on traffic, but I doubt it. I recently suggested riding to work to my car pooling buddy; he declined, he said riding a bike (in traffic) is putting a whole lot of trust in other people. I tend to agree, but nevertheless, I plan to pedal to his house and we'll "car it" the rest of the way. Luckily ~75% of the ride will be on a MUP.
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Old 06-14-13, 10:14 AM   #5
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I wish I had a MUP around; it's all roads to me.

Interesting point that commuters are generally forced to share less-safe roads with cars, as opposed to recreational riders who will tend towards more enjoyable roads = fewer cars.

75mph is certainly a fair average for freeway speeds (at least around here), but you're right, some reasonable percentage of city driving should be included in the math, which would certainly lower the average.
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Old 06-14-13, 10:28 AM   #6
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Originally Posted by locolobo13 View Post
I dunno. I think we over analyze it sometimes. The death rate is the same for everybody. 1 person, 1 death. And I'm mainly interested in only 1 person's death, mine.

That said, I think cycling is more dangerous than driving. But that is relative to our riding, driving, situational awareness skills. But we wear helmets on bikes for a reason. We don't wear them in a car, bus or train, why? Because subconsciously feel safer. Doesn't mean we are really safer but we must feel safer. I know I've been in auto accidents where the same impact would have caused horrible injuries or death and came out with only minor bruises. OTOH, I've been hit by cars on my bicycle and came thru with only bruising and road rash.
Not only 1 person/1 death, but odds and percentages are pretty much a game -- the odds are 50/50 for everything, it'll either happen or it won't.

The only REAL reason cycling MIGHT be more dangerous than driving is because of the choice of vehicle; 125-200horsepower V. 1/4-1/3horsepower, 3000lbs. v. 200lbs. Bikes don't have a shield of sheetmetal "insulating" the pilot from the world, either. THAT is the critical factor -- a step removed from the immediacy of transport means an added layer of perceived safety, and by simple human nature, a step down from caution. (I can PROMISE you that if bicycles could sustain 75mph, riders would be REALLY aware! {yes, I know, those are called motorcycles...**) As far as the sensitive issue of helmets is concerned, yes, people feel safer in the car, even though the statistical risk of head injury is greater.

Because there is a sticky on this forum for helmet discussions, and I don't want to start a flame war, I won't express myself on your phraseology re: helmet use.
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Old 06-14-13, 10:28 AM   #7
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I wish I had a MUP around; it's all roads to me.

Interesting point that commuters are generally forced to share less-safe roads with cars, as opposed to recreational riders who will tend towards more enjoyable roads = fewer cars.

75mph is certainly a fair average for freeway speeds (at least around here), but you're right, some reasonable percentage of city driving should be included in the math, which would certainly lower the average.
I don't see MUPS as being much safer (If at all) than normal roads...

On roads, I generally don't have to contend with kids darting out in the middle, with parents that are oblivious. I also don't tend to have to worry about dogs on 20ft clotheslines.
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Old 06-14-13, 10:30 AM   #8
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(I can PROMISE you that if bicycles could sustain 75mph, riders would be REALLY aware!)
If my bicycle ever hit 75mph, I would shat myself; and then collapse due to white-knuckling so hard it causes a drop in blood pressure 35mph downhill gets quite a bit of cheek clenching going on for me lol
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Old 06-14-13, 10:37 AM   #9
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If you control for skill and precaution between the two groups (people driving and people riding bikes) I feel like cars are more dangerous. You get in a lot of high stakes situations like traffic jams and busy highways where there are a *lot* of other people around you who you are not in charge of and at any point could alter your destiny. Cycling has similar problems but to a much lower order of magnitude in my experience (if infrastructure to support cycling exists, which is a big if). Driving is also increasingly become a disengaged task where people are more and more willing to take their eyes off the road in favor of their cell phones. I see cyclists doing this on occasion too, but it tends to be the rare moron paying attention to nothing around him as opposed to the normal cyclist just going about his/her way. Plus, the cyclist on the phone typically slows way down; this is at least some kind of warning to those around to give this person a wider berth.
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Old 06-14-13, 10:38 AM   #10
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I hit 56 once on a paved downhill, age 15; closest thing to an orgasm with my clothes on!
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Old 06-14-13, 10:42 AM   #11
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Risk per hour is a fair comparison for many people. People who live car-free generally choose to travel shorter distances; living closer to work to reduce commute distances and also shopping closer to home. If you own a gas guzzling SUV, maybe you'll drive 20 miles to the Costco in the next town, but if you're carrying groceries home on foot, you're likely willing to pay a few percent more at the corner market.
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Old 06-14-13, 10:55 AM   #12
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Not only 1 person/1 death, but odds and percentages are pretty much a game -- the odds are 50/50 for everything, it'll either happen or it won't.
I'm sorry, that's just dumb. Unless you are being sarcastic and mocking the "1 person/1 death" guy, in which case it's brilliant and incisive. But with that perspective, why even bother discussing anything? How about you just give me your wallet, because the chance that you'll drop it and I'll find it on the road are just 50/50, it'll either happen or it won't, so I'll flip you for it!
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Old 06-14-13, 10:56 AM   #13
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I don't see MUPS as being much safer (If at all) than normal roads...

On roads, I generally don't have to contend with kids darting out in the middle, with parents that are oblivious. I also don't tend to have to worry about dogs on 20ft clotheslines.
I might get into a crash on a MUP, but it would be pretty hard to die on a MUP.
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Old 06-14-13, 11:01 AM   #14
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Frankly there are too much variables to look at.

You could argue that cycling improves the health, which may keep people more alert as they age; while the extreme version of car culture causes drivers to become unhealthy, which their own health issues may contribute to accidents on the road.

It's not really feasible to isolate these variables, e.g. you shift x% of drivers into commuter cyclists, their health improves, less pollution, but then more cyclists mixes with drivers on the roads, etc etc...

To quote Dirty Jobs, Safety Third. We get in a car or on a bike commute to go somewhere. Just don't do stupid s*** and stay alert, whichever mode of transport you use.
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Old 06-14-13, 11:02 AM   #15
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I might get into a crash on a MUP, but it would be pretty hard to die on a MUP.
You ever get clotheslined at 15mph? You won't be having a great day... I recall a thread here on BF where a cyclist, on a MUP, was severely beaten, and was one well placed kick away from being pretty dead.

The point of the matter is thus: How many cycling hours total per year in the US vs fatalities on roads? It's not all that high, all things considered.
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Old 06-14-13, 11:07 AM   #16
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I recall a thread here on BF where a cyclist, on a MUP, was severely beaten, and was one well placed kick away from being pretty dead.
That is not a MUP-specific (or even bike-specific) problem; I'm pretty sure you are more likely to get beaten up on city streets than on MUPs, and the risk is less on a bike than on foot or waiting for a bus or train.
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Old 06-14-13, 11:08 AM   #17
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To quote Dirty Jobs, Safety Third.
I apparently havent' watched enough Dirty Jobs. Does that mean Safety First, Second and Third?
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Old 06-14-13, 11:10 AM   #18
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I don't see MUPS as being much safer (If at all) than normal roads...

On roads, I generally don't have to contend with kids darting out in the middle, with parents that are oblivious. I also don't tend to have to worry about dogs on 20ft clotheslines.
Not to mention the unsafe passing by the guys & gals in full kit. Nevertheless, I'd rather take my chances in a bike on bike, bike on dog collision than bike vs car.
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Old 06-14-13, 11:29 AM   #19
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Not to mention the unsafe passing by the guys & gals in full kit. Nevertheless, I'd rather take my chances in a bike on bike, bike on dog collision than bike vs car.
The funny thing about that is I've only encountered 3 jerks on the road. And, one was being a jerk for everyone (Not just me), and two cut me off.

I've encountered quite a few more dangerous situations on the MUP. Generally, 3 per ride.

Seeing as my dad died in a collision with a roller blader while biking, I don't think your chances are any better going against a car or a bike/rollerblader/ped/etc etc.
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Old 06-14-13, 11:57 AM   #20
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There are way more cagers than cyclists(i.e. 1% compared to 80%). Cyclists drives too. Simply comparing the total number of death is not a very good approach.

It's safer in that cyclist are less likely to die of cardiovascular/diabetic/obesity diseases.
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Old 06-14-13, 12:04 PM   #21
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Seeing as my dad died in a collision with a roller blader while biking, I don't think your chances are any better going against a car or a bike/rollerblader/ped/etc etc.
All due respect to your painful situation, one tragically unfortunate personal experience does not replace the overall chances.
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Old 06-14-13, 12:16 PM   #22
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All due respect to your painful situation, one tragically unfortunate personal experience does not replace the overall chances.
And your overall chances of riding on the road are actually pretty good that you will NOT die in a collision while cycling. Yes, it does happen. Is it very likely? Not really.

As for where you "feel" safer, that's all subjective. I actually feel safer on the roads than I do on our MUPS here. You, just the opposite. In reality, they're both just as dangerous/just as safe.
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Old 06-14-13, 12:33 PM   #23
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And your overall chances of riding on the road are actually pretty good that you will NOT die in a collision while cycling. Yes, it does happen. Is it very likely? Not really.

As for where you "feel" safer, that's all subjective. I actually feel safer on the roads than I do on our MUPS here. You, just the opposite. In reality, they're both just as dangerous/just as safe.
I have to disagree. The MUPs here are clearly safer than the roads I'd have to take just like certain roads and intersections are more dangerous than others.
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Old 06-14-13, 12:43 PM   #24
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Do you have to die to prove that an activity is dangerous? I think just looking at fatality rates skews the statistics.

If he examined reported injuries too (i.e. hospital visits), then cycling may not look so safe. The irony, of course, is that it's riding with vehicular traffic that makes cycling dangerous. Without cars, cycling wouldn't be very dangerous at all.
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Old 06-14-13, 01:06 PM   #25
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Here's a good question. Do you base how you live your life on statistics? Surely you only eat the most healthy foods and never indulge in the consumption of alcohol beyond the optimum number of milligrams of red wine per day?

If you are that kind of a sad person, be sure to calculate the expected lifespan of a regular bicycle commuter versus a full-time car commuter. Yes, include death due to accident, which may or may not be higher for the cyclist than for the driver. But then also include the significantly increased risk of heart disease and a whole range of cancers that increases due to a more sedentary lifestyle.

This calculation has been done by others in the past and the result was that the added years of life due to being less likely to come down with fatal diseases earlier in life outweigh the risk of death by traffic accident by a factor of TWENTY.

This doesn't even count the fact that the last few years of your life are likely to be of higher quality if you were fit throughout your life than if not.
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