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Understanding the Surge of Bicycle Accidents

It is simple to understand the popularity of bicycling. Cycling is good exercise, it's better for the environment, it is economical, and here in South Florida, it can be done year around. Cycling is not just a mode of transportation -- for many, it is a recreational activity.

Bicycles are incredibly popular in South Florida, so the latest news about an increase in bicycle fatalities is alarming. We look at the numbers and what they mean for cyclists.

What may not be so easy to understand is why cycling accidents are surging. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 818 bicyclists were killed in accidents in 2015. That is a jump of over 12% from the previous year. In spite of some aggressive safety measures taking place in the Sunshine State, Florida continues to lead the country in cycling fatalities, with 150. That is up from 139 the previous year. California, also a popular state for cycling, experienced 129 cycling fatalities, the second highest. Other than third-place Texas with 50, no other state in the country had more than 50 fatalities.

Nationally, cycling fatalities have increased by an average of 55 per year since 2011. It is estimated that over 45,000 people were injured in bicycle-involved accidents in 2015. Because not all accidents are reported, that number could actually be significantly higher.

Understanding the surge in bicycling accidents may start with a better understanding of who is bicycling today.

Bicycling Demographics

A generation ago, bicycling was done mostly by children for recreational use or as transportation to school. Today, according to a report prepared by the Governors Highway Safety Association, only 2.2% of school-aged children ride their bikes to school.

That same report states that the average age of a cycling fatality in 2015 was 45 years old. While many cyclists are still young (39% are 16 or under), cyclists in general are getting older. This is due in part to the large number of Millennials who have embraced the activity.

More Cyclists are on the Road than Ever

One obvious reason for the surge in bicycle accidents is the number of people who are participating in the activity. More adults than ever are cycling. Statistics show that 34% of us have ridden a bicycle in the past year. The challenge may be that many people who cycle do so infrequently. About 30% of people who ride a bike do so five or fewer times a year. A cyclist who rides less frequently can be less skilled and less aware of their surroundings. Their bike may not be maintained as well, and they may not have the safety equipment of more experienced riders.

Now the largest generation on the planet, many millennials have abandoned car ownership and have taken to the street on bikes. Most major cities, and even some smaller ones, now offer bike-sharing services targeted to these millennials who also have embraced urban living.

The Role of Alcohol in Cycling Accidents

As in vehicle to vehicle accidents, the use of alcohol plays a significant role in the increasing number of bicycle accidents. Surveys indicate that 37% of all vehicle-bicycle accidents involve alcohol. What is surprising is that it is not only drivers who are impaired; statistics show that 22% of bike riders who are involved in a vehicle-bicycle crash were riding while impaired. Bicyclists in Florida should be aware that riding while impaired can lead to a citation.

Increased Nighttime Riding

In a challenging economy, many are turning to bicycling as their main mode of transportation, including travel to and from work. This often involves riding in the dark. This is particularly dangerous. While nighttime cycling accounts for only about 20% of all cycling, it involves about half of all fatal cycling accidents.

More Cars on the Road

While it is easy to understand the correlation between a growing number of bicycles on the road and the surge in bicycle accidents, one also has to consider the fact that there are more cars on the road than ever before. In Florida, in particular, many drivers are of retirement age and older, when eyesight can begin to deteriorate. This combination of more bikes, more cars, and older drivers is contributing to the increase in vehicle-bicycle accidents.

More Aggressive and Distracted

It doesn't take a long trip on today's roadways to see aggressive driving is on the rise. Many of these aggressive drivers don't respect the rights of cyclists on the roadways. Here in Florida, we also get a mix of driving styles and more aggressive drivers from the Northeast. An article in the Orlando Sentinel on the subject of bicycle safety also offers the theory that cycling is not quite part of our “culture” here in Florida.

Florida has also struggled to pass more aggressive distracted driving laws and is now second to Louisiana in the number of distracted driving accidents.

What to Do If You've Been Injured in a Vehicle-Bicycle Crash

If you've been involved in an accident with a vehicle while riding your bike, contact us at Stabinski & Funt, P.A. As one of South Florida's most respected and oldest law firms, we've been assisting people with personal injury cases for over 45 years. To learn more about how our firm may help you, call us at (305) 964-8644 or fill out our free case evaluation form. We work on a contingency basis, which means that if there is no recovery, there is no fee or cost to you.

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