It’s not surprising that bicycling is dangerous, but you might not know how dangerous it can be. To help Americans better appreciate the risks they face when they bike and to encourage them to use helmets and follow safety precautions, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) promulgates annual fact sheets that summarize these risks.
Bicyclists Continued to Be at Risk of Injury and Death in 2020
The most recent year for which data is available is 2020. Some of the key findings from that year’s report include the following:
Total Numbers of Cyclists Injured and Killed
The available raw numbers show that more bicyclists were killed in accidents in 2020 than in any other year within the preceding ten years. In 2011, a total of 682 bicyclists were killed, and by 2019, that number had risen to 859. In 2020, a total of 938 bicyclists suffered fatal injuries in crashes.
The number of bicyclists injured, though, has actually decreased over the years. In 2011, 48,134 individuals on bicycles were hurt in wrecks. By 2019, that number had increased slightly to 49,057. By 2020, the number had dropped to a low of 38,886.
Despite these fluctuations in the number of fatalities and injuries, the percentage of bicyclists who are hurt and killed relative to the overall number of all traffic injuries and fatalities has remained constant. In 2020, bicyclists killed in crashes represented 2.4 percent of all traffic fatalities, a percentage that has remained constant since 2018.
Similarly, in 2020, injured bicyclists made up 1.7 percent of all traffic-related injuries. This number has been constant since 2017, when 1.8 percent of all traffic injuries were bicyclists.
Age of Bicyclists Killed Continues to Climb
Perhaps reflecting America’s aging population, the average age of bicyclists who are killed in accidents has steadily increased since 2011. In that year, the average age of a bicyclist who was killed in an accident was 43 years old. In 2020, the average age of a fatal bicycle accident victim was 48.
Most bicyclists who were killed in accidents were between 60 and 64 years of age. In this age group, 101 men and 17 women were killed. Close behind this age group was the 55–59 age bracket, with 107 men and 7 women killed.
These numbers could reflect that adults in this age bracket are at a greater risk of sustaining fatal injuries due to their age. The statistics compiled by NHTSA reveal that bicyclists in younger age brackets sustained a higher number of injuries than those in the 55–64 age group.
More Men Than Women Were Killed in Accidents
More men than women were killed and injured in bicycle accidents. In 2020, a total of 812 men and 117 women were killed. Similarly, 31,573 male bicyclists were injured, and only 7,311 women sustained injuries in crashes.
For every 100,000 people, 0.59 males will suffer fatal injuries in a bicycle accident, while only 0.07 women will do the same.
Many Fatal Bicycle Wrecks Occur in Urban Areas During Daylight Hours
The greater congestion of vehicles in cities leads to a greater percentage of fatal bicycle wrecks happening in urban areas. Of all fatal bicycle accidents, 79 percent of them happened in urban areas, whereas only 21 percent occurred in rural areas.
Moreover, nearly seven out of every ten fatal accidents occurred somewhere besides an intersection. This meant that most bicyclists were killed while traveling alongside or against traffic, not when their paths crossed in front of other vehicles.
While nighttime does increase the risk of a bicycle crash due to decreased visibility, a slight majority of fatal crashes occur during daylight hours. Fifty percent of fatal bicycle wrecks happened during the day compared to 45 percent that happened at night. This statistic is likely due to more motorists and bicyclists being out on the road during the day than during nighttime hours.
States Where Bicycling Was Riskier
In approximately one dozen states, the percentage of bicyclist fatalities compared to the overall number of traffic fatalities exceeded 2.6 percent. Florida led the way, where bicyclists were 5.1 percent of all traffic deaths. Florida was followed by New York, where 4.5 percent of its traffic deaths were individuals killed in bicycle accidents.
The following states also had some of the highest percentages of bicyclists killed compared to their overall number of traffic deaths:
- Louisiana, with 4.1 percent
- Nevada and Michigan, each with 3.5 percent
- California, with 3.4 percent
- Arizona and New Jersey, with 3.1 percent each
- Iowa and Rhode Island, each with 3.0 percent
Conversely, states with some of the lowest percentages included Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Montana.
By the raw numbers, the states with the highest number of bicyclist fatalities were:
- New York
- North Carolina
Locations with the fewest number of individuals killed on bicycles were the District of Columbia, South Dakota, and Montana.
The Impact of NHTSA’s Bicycle Accident Statistics
The statistics compiled by NHTSA serve as a reminder that bicycle accident injuries and deaths can happen anywhere and at any time, even when they are least expected. If you are riding a bicycle, you should remain alert to your surroundings and never ride without wearing a properly fitted helmet.
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