More people are hitting the road on bicycles. Through 2005 to 2013, the number of people commuting to work by bicycle in the United States increased by 60 percent. Along with this increase, so has the magnitude of injuries and fatalities from bike injuries. However, a recent study conducted by the Mineta Transportation Institute investigated a large discrepancy in the number of deaths from bike crashes. The study found that the number of deaths that have occurred on bikes from bike sharing programs in the United States was zero. This is somewhat remarkable considering the overall estimated cycling fatality rate of 21 fatalities per one million bike trips. The phenomenon of bike sharing systems has spread to 94 cities, including Chicago.
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Is This a Fluke?
The fatality stats or lack thereof in the case of bike sharing intrigued the Mineta researchers. They turned their focus to data collected from bike-share systems in Minneapolis, San Francisco and Washington, DC. Analysis of that data found that bike-share riders were in far fewer crashes than cyclists on personal bikes were. In DC alone, the collision rate for bike-share riders was 35 percent lower than cyclists who rode their own bikes. Bike-share cyclists that were involved in crashes also suffered fewer injuries.
The authors of the report decided to interview riders and experts from transportation departments throughout the country to learn more. Between the data and the interviews, the researchers arrived at few broad conclusions as to why riding a ride-share bike was safer than riding a personal bike.
Overall Design of Bike
Bikes that are used in public bike-sharing systems weigh around 42 and a half pounds and have wider tires. This makes them sturdier, which lessens the effects of riding on bumpy roads or hitting a pothole, which is a leading cause of crashes involving only a cyclist. Being heavier and having only seven gears prevents riders from going very fast. Instead of caliper brakes, the shared bikes have drum brakes that work better on wet roads. The bike-share bicycles are also highly visible because they are painted in bright colors and have flashing lights that make them noticeable to car drivers.
Bike-Share Found in Urban Areas
Bike-share stations can be found in downtown areas where speed limits are lower and there are many pedestrians. Drivers are usually more alert in congested areas. Driver inattention is a common cause in bike crashes. The researchers argued that bike collisions with cars were more likely if the cars were going faster than 30 mph.
Attracts Less Experienced Riders
One would think that experience would pay off with having fewer accidents. However, with bike-share bikes, the majority of riders are new to cycling or ride infrequently. Because of this, bike-share riders are likely to be:
- More cautious
- Defensive riders
But, as researchers noted, rider inexperience could be a hazard for some riders.
Reduced Use of Helmets
It is recommended that all cyclists wear bike helmets to help mitigate the severity of head and spinal cord injuries. However, bike-share riders are more likely to forego wearing a helmet than regular cyclists are. When observing cyclists in Washington, DC and Boston, it was found that 54.4 percent of riders did not wear helmets. Out of that number, 80.8 percent of unhelmeted riders were bike-share cyclists. While wearing a helmet helps reduce the likelihood of a serious injury, they do not actually prevent collisions from happening. But the researchers arrived at the hypothesis that car drivers drive more carefully when they are around cyclists without helmets.
Is There Safety in Numbers?
While not conclusive, there may be a correlation between having a larger number of cyclists on the road and how cautious drivers are around those cyclists. The Mineta researchers could not completely confirm this with the data they analyzed. However, there was a strong correlation between the number of overall collisions in San Francisco and Washington, DC and the number of bike riders on the road. This relates to what is known as PJ’s Law, named after Peter Jacobsen, a California engineer. Jacobsen found that there is a one-third drop in the likelihood of a cyclist having a crash with a car when the number of cyclists on the road is doubled. Using this line of thought, tripling the number of cyclists should reduce bike-car crashes by half.
Illinois Personal Injury Laws
Regardless of whether a cyclist is riding a bike-share cycle or their personal bike, if he or she sustains an injury because of a negligent driver, they are entitled to compensation. A personal injury attorney can seek compensation for his or her client’s medical expenses, pain and disability and time lost from work.