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More Dangerous NOT to Ride a Bike

by Joshua Liberles on October 30, 2007

BikeSafety More Dangerous NOT to Ride a BikeAlan During, a writer for Gristmill, was inspired to do some research on the safety of riding a bike after a car ran his son off the road.

The data that Durning dug up are good news for cyclists. As the table below illustrates, riding a bike compares pretty favorably with other forms of transportation (if your commute involves a skydive, however, you may need to find an alternative.)

Fatalities per million hours activity
On-road motorcycling
Scuba diving
Living (all causes of death)
Passenger cars
Water skiing
Flying (scheduled domestic airlines)
Passenger car post-collision fire
From Charles R. Murray, "The Real Story: Overdesign Prevents Cars from Exploding," Design News, October 4, 1993.

The above chart is based per hour. If we look at the data per mile, cars in the U.S. start looking better. Ten drivers and passengers die per billion miles in a car; this number goes up to 100 for cyclists.

Public transportation is ten times safer than cars per mile. Walking is three times more dangerous than cycling. However, the perception is that cycling is a super-dangerous activity, and many people (including folks leaving comments on some of Carectomy’s posts) don’t feel safe riding a bike. Based purely on reason, those looking to be safe should avoid walking and stick to public transit whenever possible.

Durning’s research points out two important qualifiers to the bike data. Over 50% of the bike-related crashes resulting in injuries were the fault of the cyclist. They did something stupid or illegal, like running stop signs or red lights, riding against traffic, etc. This partly results from a lack of cyclist education, but also may stem from cycling’s reputation as a dangerous sport. “If everyone thinks biking is unsafe, the people who do it will be the ones who don’t mind danger,” according to Durning. “And such people are more likely to get hurt in just about any activity.”

Perhaps the most interesting nuggets of information Durning unearthed involved the positive health benefits reaped by cyclists. This regular dose of low-impact aerobic exercise makes cyclists healthier and prolongs their lives. The benefits by far outweigh the risks.

Similarly, Pedalling Health, an Australian study published in 1996, concluded that an hour of biking a day — normal for a regular bike commuter — prevents four times as much heart attack risk as it adds in collision risk. The iconoclastic British transport researcher Mayer Hillman did a study for the British Medical Association in 1992 (not online but summarized here and here) reportedly showing that for every year of life lost to a bike crash, twenty years of life are gained from stress reduction, greater cardiovascular fitness, and improved mental health. As I’ve noted, the time you spend in moderate exercise is added to your life, with interest.

So, in the end, the overwhelming answer is that cycling is not only a safe endeavor; it’s something we should all add into out lives to be healthier and live longer. Of course, much can be done to make this form of transportation safer. Top on the list perhaps should be education of cyclists, drivers, and law enforcement.

We also need to work to change the common perception of riding a bike as an unsafe venture, and get people the heck out of their “safe” death-machine SUVs. As our post on the Right of Way organization indicates, cyclists are dramatically safer when there are more people riding.

Via Gristmill. Photo by bicyclesonly.

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