Data from the National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA) shows a bicycle rider is more than twice as likely to be killed by a vehicle than the national average.

In 2016, data show the state had the highest percentage (4.3 percent) of auto-involved accidents killing a “pedacyclist” (person riding a bicycle). The national average was about half (2.2 percent). This sad statistic continued in 2017.

It’s worth asking why this rate is so high, and how it can help make all cities nationwide safer for everyone who uses a public street.

  • Bicycle ridership — Fewer bicyclists on the road (as a percentage of travel) would result in fewer bicycle collisions. States with few urban centers, spread-out populations, and poor weather would see lower ridership rates. South Dakota checks all three boxes. It saw zero fatal bicycle crashes in 2016.
  • Helmet usageAccording to AAA, a person wearing a bicycle helmet is 85% less likely to sustain serious injury to their head. Floridians wear helmets 65% of the time (self-reported survey data). It is not the lowest rate in the U.S., so this alone does not account for the high rate.
  • Street design — Poorly design streets increase conflict between motorized and non-motorized roadway users. This would contribute to pedestrian and bicyclist deaths.

NHTSA makes four suggestions to fix our roads so they can better serve everyone more safely:

  1. Inadequate separation — Everyone needs space on the roadway. Pedestrians travel more slowly than cars, and we give them their own space on the sidewalk. Bicyclists also travel at different speeds than pedestrians and cars, and they too warrant their own space (bicycle lanes and multi-use trails).
  2. Crossing locations — When a bicyclist does not have her own space, she may be inclined to ride on the sidewalk. This places her in situations where a motorist turning may be expecting a slow pedestrian, and not a zooming bicycle. By providing appropriate bicycle infrastructure (bicycle lanes and multi-use trails), riders are more inclined to be in places where drivers will be looking for them.
  3. Poor lighting — Three quarters of bicycle fatalities happen during dark hours. When appropriate bicycle infrastructure is built, intersections and corridors can be appropriately illuminated to help a motorist see bicyclists.
  4. Speeding — It’s easy to make a moral crusade that drivers should “just slow down.” It won’t happen without physical changes. In urban areas, cities should consider appropriate road diets to make streets “feel” slower. In suburban areas, municipalities should consider adding separated multi-use trails.

Implementing these recommendations may help reverse the ten-year trend of increasing bicyclist fatalities.

Road Guy Rob

A 12-year veteran public radio reporter and producer. Rob covered transportation and urban issues. He earned a graduate degree in Civil Engineering (MS) in 2018.

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