In Collisions, Bicyclists Lose

By Cory Bilton

Wiehle 3

When people use different modes of transportation on the same path, like when bicyclists and motorists are using the same street, there is going to be some friction between them. The local debate between motorists and bicyclists (and the less vocal pedestrians, too) has heated up in recent weeks. The flames started when a local reporter poured gasoline on an otherwise smoldering fire by comparing bicyclists to terrorists and suggesting that hitting a bicyclist may be worth a $500 fine. There are many political, legal, cultural, and social aspects in this debate (some excellent responses to the reporter’s spiteful suggestions are here and here). But one fact, that is particularly important to me, is that any time a bicyclist is involved in a collision with a motorist, the bicyclist loses.

What do I mean by losing? Bicyclists are the ones that get hurt in collisions. Even with protective gear like a helmet and gloves, a bicyclist is still almost surely going to be injured in a crash with a vehicle. The human body just cannot withstand the punishment inflicted by a 3000 pound vehicle and remain undamaged. It’s like a fight between David and Goliath, but one in which Goliath wins. In fact, I’ve witnessed bicyclists get hit and not even leave a scratch on the bumper of the car. In working with injured bicyclists, I’ve yet to encounter a case where a motorist was injured in a collision with a bicyclist. Maybe it has happened, but overall, bicyclists do not threaten injury to motorists.

The high likelihood of a bicyclist being injured in a collision can be shown with numbers, too. I took a look at collision data from Washington, DC, Virginia, and Maryland. In all three jurisdictions, bicyclists are about twice as likely to be physically injured (which includes death) than non-bicyclists involved in collisions. Here are the numbers from 2012 (which is the most recent year that all three jurisdictions have data):

Collisions Involving:
DC
Virginia
Maryland

– Bicyclists
538
804
841

– Bicyclists and Injuries or Fatalities
421
801
665

– No Bicyclists
17,890
122,775
91,580

– No Bicyclists, But Injuries or Fatalities
4,855
66,978
31,092

 

Chance of Non-Bicyclist Being Injured
27.1%
54.6%
34.0%

Chance of Bicyclist Being Injured
78.3%
99.6%
79.1%

 

This crash data makes clear that in collisions, bicyclists are overwhelmingly injured. This is one very good reason we should all be promoting bicycle safety and awareness among both bicyclists and motorists. For those people that think bicyclists involved in collisions are somehow deserving of their injuries (which is a ridiculous argument in my opinion; no one deserves to be injured), I’ll point out there is probably at least one party at fault in each of the “No Bicyclist” collisions, too. The vast majority of all the collisions involve some kind of broken laws or bad judgment by one party or the other, yet the injury rate in bicycle collisions is still far greater than in all other types of collisions. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to conclude that bicyclists, lacking the weight, protection and safety features provided by cars and trucks, will be more likely to be injured in a collision with a motorist. But I do think this fact sometimes gets lost in the debate. Bicyclists and motorists may both be legally considered vehicles on the road, but they are not physically equal. This fact should inform our bicycle policies and be key to any debate.

Please view my disclaimer.