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Cycling deaths up 6.5% in 2012

Published November 20, 2013

WASHINGTON D.C. (BRAIN)—The number of cyclists killed while riding in traffic in 2012 jumped 6.5 percent, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports in its latest finding released last week. The NHTSA said 726 cyclists died last year compared with 682 in 2011. 

The leading cause of cycling fatalities was drivers who failed to yield the right of way, accounting for 188 deaths or 26 percent. The next two leading causes were drivers under the influence (65 deaths) and cyclists wearing dark clothing and no lighting (62 deaths).

Other key contributors were cyclists who failed to obey traffic signs, riding the wrong way on streets, and improperly crossing roadways and intersections. 

Using NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), the single largest cohort of fatalities based on age occurred among those between 45 and 64 years of age, making up 37 percent of all deaths. The next highest cohort—riders aged 25 to 34—accounted for 9.7 percent of all fatalities. 

Almost half of all deaths (49.4 percent) occur between noon and 6 p.m. The next most dangerous time to ride, based on a FARS report, is between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. with 107 cyclists (15 percent) killed. Nonetheless, 25 percent (184) of all deaths are recorded between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. 

Passenger cars and pickups are involved in the vast majority of cycling accidents—74 percent.

However, in reviewing 10 years of data from 2003 to 2012 adds context to the NHTSA reports. The 10-year average for cyclists killed in traffic is 699 per year. The years 2004, 2005 and 2006 posted the highest number of fatalities—727, 786 and 772 respectively.

Jay Townley, a longtime industry consultant who follows rider participation, said the average number of deaths has remained essentially static because overall participation in cycling has been on a downward trend for years. “Just look at the stats from the NSGA and others who keep track of participation,” he said. The same is true of overall unit sales, he added.

As for the relatively high number of deaths recorded between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m., Townley pointed out that many of those occur primarily among the poor who work late night shifts and who can’t afford a car. 

“It’s the poor, immigrants both legal and illegal, who work as dishwashers and other jobs late at night,” he said.

In its official press release, the NHTSA focused primarily on highway deaths reporting a 3.3 percent increase to 33,561 people killed last year on the nation’s highways—that increase reflected a 7.1 percent jump in motorcycle fatalities compared to 2011. Ten times as many riders died not wearing a helmet in states without a universal helmet law, the report found. 

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