Riding your bicycle to work, to the store, or just for fun around the neighborhood is good for your health, right? New statistics released by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) reports that, if you happen to live in California, it may not be. According to a recently published study, the number of bicycle deaths in the U.S. increased by 16% between 2010 and 2012, with California’s 23% increase in fatalities coming second only to Florida, which saw a 37% jump over the two-year period. California did experience the largest number of total cyclists killed, however, with 338 bicycle deaths in The Golden State between 2010 and 2012.
Though the lack of helmet use and alcohol impairment continues to contribute to the growing death toll – in 2012, 60% of fatally-injured cyclists were helmetless and 28% of riders killed had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or higher – the larger problem seems to be a lack of infrastructure for the growing number of cyclists on public thoroughfares. “Roads were built to accommodate motor vehicles with little concern for pedestrians and bicyclists,” the GHSA study states, saying that cyclists are safest when operating in physically separate “cycle paths,” though admitting that creating these paths “is rarely feasible.” Because the total number of bicycle deaths – which accounted for only 2% of annual road deaths nationwide in 2012 – pales in comparison to larger problems like alcohol-impaired driving, teen drivers, and motorcycle accidents, officials are hesitant to invest time or money in improving safety for bicycle commuters. “There is no justification for spending additional resources on a problem that is so small, relatively speaking,” one state’s representative is quoted as saying.
The bright side of these statistics – if there is one – is that increases in cycling deaths are due in large part to an expanding bicycle commuter culture in America. According to the United States Census Bureau, the number of U.S. bicycle commuters has risen 62% since 2000. “The reason [for the increase in fatalities] is there’s simply more biking,” says Allan Williams, a Maryland highway safety consultant who wrote the report for the GHSA. Especially in progressive states with health-minded and environmentally-conscious populations, like California, the increased number of bikes on the road means more people are exposed to dangerous traffic conditions.
Jonathan Adkins, the Governors Highway Safety Association’s Executive Director, says that educating bicyclists and motorists, promoting helmet use, enforcing motor vehicle laws that protect cyclists on the road, and implementing infrastructure changes like adding protected bike lanes are all actions needed to help curb the problem of rising in bicycle deaths, particularly in urban areas. Until these improvements and changes are made, however, cyclists in California may want to consider calling a car instead.