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Increase in Bike Deaths Prompts Concerns

Most of the fatalities in the past three years happened in a handful of states and were adult men, according to a new report from the Governors Highway Safety Association.

The number of U.S. bicyclists killed in traffic increased in 2011 and 2012, despite an overall decline in cycling fatalities that stretches back to the 1970s, according to a new analysis by a traffic safety group.

A total of 722 American cyclists died in motor vehicle crashes in 2012, compared to 680 deaths in 2011 and 621 in 2010, reported the Governors Highway Safety Association, which represents state transportation safety agencies.

The 16 percent uptick in bicycle deaths during that period came at a time when motor vehicle deaths increased by 1 percent.

There are some indications that the increase in cyclists deaths correspond with an increase in the number of cyclists overall, but the data is limited. We don't really know that more Americans are riding bycycles at all.

“To the extent encouragement of bicycling is successful, exposure and fatalities are likely to increase,” the GHSA said.

Most of the cyclist deaths in the three-year period occurred in California, Florida, Texas, New York, Illinois and Michigan. Florida had the largest increase in the country, with 37 more deaths in 2012 than in 2010. Michigan had the largest decrease from 2012 to 2010, with 10 fewer deaths.

“These are high population states with many urban centers, and likely reflect a high level of bicycle exposure and interaction with motor vehicles,” said Allan Williams, the report’s author.

In fact, 69 percent of 2012 deaths happened in urban areas. More than one in three occurred at intersections.

Florida also had the highest number of cyclist deaths per capita, followed by Louisiana, New Mexico, South Carolina and California. Florida also has the highest number of pedestrian deaths per capita.

The GHSA report also pointed out the growing number of cyclists who are killed are adult men, who account for three out of every four cyclist deaths. Boys who are 20 or younger make up 14 percent of cyclist fatalities, followed by adult females (10 percent) and girls 20 or younger (2 percent).

The safety organization noted that 65 percent of bicyclists killed were not wearing helmets. Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia require children to wear helmets, but no states have helmet laws applying to adults.

“The lack of universal helmet use laws for bicyclists is a serious impediment to reducing deaths and injuries, resulting from both collisions with motor vehicles and in falls from bicycles not involving motor vehicles,” it wrote.

View state bicycle fatality data and per capita rates.

Data editor Mike Maciag contributed.

The original version of this story incorrectly stated that cyclist deaths increased for the first time since the 1970s between 2010 and 2012. Cyclist deaths have decreased in every decade since the 1970s, but not in every year.

This piece was first published as: "For First Time Since 1970s, Bike Deaths Increase."

Dan is Governing’s transportation and infrastructure reporter.
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