The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has not analyzed bicycle safety in the United States since 1972. In the last several years, multiple safety issues concerning bicyclists and other at-risk road users have become evident in reports published by the NTSB (NTSB 2013a, 2017a, 2017b, 2018a, 2018b). Bicyclist deaths resulting from crashes with motor vehicles totaled 806 on American roadways in 2017 alone. This figure is comparable to the number of deaths caused by railroad or marine accidents. It is more than double the number of fatalities from aviation accidents in the same year.
Bicycles are more available than they were back in 1972, and more people are using them as a means of transportation, recreation, and exercise. These facts, combined with the startling statistics regarding fatalities, begs for the NTSB to review bicyclists’ safety again. The safety report from the NTSB provides updates and information on bicycle safety in the United States. It scrutinizes the rates and risk factors of bicycle – motor vehicle accidents on the roadways and looks at their most suitable countermeasures.
Analyzing the Data
Like pedestrians and motorcycles, bicyclists are a vulnerable class of road users since they do not have the protection of an enclosed vehicle compartment. In the event of a crash, bicyclists are more likely to suffer injuries or death due to this lack of protection. The NTSB issued reports regarding the safety of motorcyclists and pedestrians in 2018. With these reports and with the bicyclist safety research report, the NTSB is increasing its efforts to address safety issues with vulnerable road users.
When conducting research, the NTSB used the following methods that are both qualitative and quantitative:
- Reviewing countermeasures and research literature
- Analyzing crash and injury data
- Interviewing national state and local traffic safety stakeholders
The goals of the research goals were to:
- Define fatal and non-fatal trends associated with a bicycle – motor vehicle crashes
- Observe the scope and nature of bicycle accidents and injury risk factors and assess data limitations
- Recognize successful countermeasures that may not be already fully utilized
- Evaluate obstacles that could interfere with the full use of those countermeasures
- Discover emerging issues that are relevant to bicycle safety
Bicyclists who have accidents with motor vehicles are more likely than bicyclists in other types of crashes to receive severe injuries. Thus, this study focuses on crashes between bicyclists and motorized vehicles and more specifically highlights existing and emerging countermeasures that are crafted to improve bicyclist safety on public roads. For example, the design of roadways and infrastructure that can separate bicycle riders from motor vehicle traffic, conspicuity enhancements for both bicycles and their riders, vehicle technologies that reduce collisions between motorist and bicycles when they both are on the road together, and protective equipment that can decrease the severity of injuries to bicyclists when a crash offers with another vehicle. It is important to note that this studied did not involve single bicycle crashes or pedestrian – bicycle accidents. However, many of the safety countermeasures that the study focused on potentially preventing other types of bicycle crashes or decreasing the severity of injuries.
Identified Safety Issues
The report found the following safety issues when it comes to bicycle and vehicle accidents:
Improving the Design of Roadways for Motorcyclists
Studies show that more bicycle – motor vehicle crashes happen at intersections. If the crash happens at a midblock location, the severity can be higher. In general, most people are driving at higher speeds at midblock locations, which tend to be higher than those controlled by a traffic light, stop signs, or other turning vehicles. In most cases, bicyclists need to be separated from other motor vehicles, which can be done with the help of separated bike lanes, intersection treatments, and road diets. Injuries and fatalities can also be reduced by lowering the travel speeds of motor vehicles in places where traffic speed and volumes are increased.
Many times, before an accident occurs, a motorist and a bicyclist do not see each other in time. There are many reasons for this. In approximately one-third of these crashes that killed the bicyclists, the motor vehicle was overtaking the bicycle, and the motorist said they did not see the bicyclist before the crash. Increasing the ability to see everyone on the roadway will decrease the chances of an accident when the roadway must be shared. Bicyclists can use countermeasures such as wearing bright or reflective clothing and utilizing bicycle lights and reflective materials. Drivers can use enhanced motor vehicle headlights and in-vehicle crash warning and prevention systems. These countermeasures can all help motorists to spot bicyclists before an accident occurs.
Decreasing head injuries
The leading cause of bicycle-related deaths is a head injury. These injuries are common in bicycle and motorcycle accidents. Helmets are the best way to decrease the chances of a head injury if a bicycle crash occurs. Despite the encouragement of helmet use and warnings, underutilization of helmets still occurs. The incidence of deaths and severe injuries in bicyclists could be significantly reduced if every one of all ages committed to wearing helmets each time they were on their bike. The report recommends that both state and local governments make moves to increase helmet use, such as helmet distribution programs, effective educational campaigns, and mandated helmet use for bicyclists.
Findings of the Study
- It is likely that the current data available underestimates the level of bicycling activity in the United States.
- Measuring bicycle safety could improve if traditional and innovative data collection processes are combined.
- It is likely that police crash report data underestimates the scope of non-fatal injuries bicyclists sustain.
- Fatal and severe injuries in bicyclists are more likely to result from accidents with motor vehicles at midblock locations.
- Bike crashes with motor vehicles at the midblock locations could be prevented with separated bike lanes.
- A network of safer roadways for bicyclists can be created when proven countermeasures are combined.
- The implementation of separated bike lanes as well as intersection treatments and the transition between them could increase the implementation of bike lanes by transportation planning and engineering practitioners.
- Decreasing the speed of traffic can increase bicycle safety by decreasing the chances of a severe or fatal injury if a crash occurs.
- The road diet is a proven successful safety countermeasure that works by reducing traffic speeds and giving more space on the roadways for the implementation of bicycle facilities like separated bike lanes.
- Including separated bike lanes and intersection safety treatments in the Federal Highway Administration’s Proven Safety Countermeasures initiative and Every Day Counts Program could be a catalyst for the adoption and improvement of bicycle safety.
- Improving the visibility of bicycles could reduce the chances of crashes between bicycles and motor vehicles.
- The current requirements for bicycle visibility were established in 1980. Now they are outdated and do not adequately consider the modern advances in bicycle visibility materials and technologies.
- A revision of the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 108 to allow adaptive headlight systems and the requirement to evaluate headlights in real-world settings rather than in a laboratory environment would likely result in headlights that improve a drivers’ ability to detect bicyclists and other vulnerable road users.
- The incidence of collisions between motor vehicles and bicycles could be decreased if collision avoidance systems were modified to detect bicycles when the driver cannot see them. This could mitigate the resulting accidents and injuries.
- The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s delay in updating the New Car Assessment Program has probably slowed the development of essential systems for vulnerable road users and the implementation of these systems into vehicles.
- The United States Department of Transportation’s slow progress to develop standards for connected vehicle technology has delayed potentially lifesaving technologies.
- Drivers who are behind the wheel in large vehicles have a more difficult time detecting vulnerable road users because their blind spots are larger.
- The need for performance standards to ensure blind-spot detection systems that can detect vulnerable road users continues.
- The leading cause of death in bicycle-related deaths is a head injury. Those involved in bicycle- passenger vehicle crashes sustain a higher portion of head injuries.
- Bicycle helmets are proven protection and can help decrease the chances of a head injury in an accident.
- The underutilization of bicycle helmets contributed to the increase in deaths and serious injuries amount bicyclists involved in a crash.
- The most effective way to increase helmet use and reduce injuries is to mandate their use.
- An inclusive plan that includes helmet legislation and complimentary non-legislative interventions are most likely to increase helmet use among bicyclists of all ages.
The New NTSB Recommendations
The NTSB recommends the following:
- To the Intelligent Transportation Systems Joint Program Office: Expand the vehicle-to-pedestrian research efforts to guarantee that bicyclists and other vulnerable road users can be incorporated into the safe deployment of connected vehicle systems
- To the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: The New Car Assessment program should include tests to evaluate a car’s ability to not crash into bicycles. Create a bicycle safety coalition of stakeholders to develop a comprehensive national strategy to increase helmet use in bicyclists of all ages
- To the Federal Highway Administration: Create strategies to combine traditional and innovative bicycle-counting approaches that count bicycling activity data. Share the methods with state transportation departments. Include separate lanes for bikes and intersection safety treatments that are listed in the Proven Safety Countermeasures as well as the Every Day Counts program.
- To the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission: Orchestrate an evaluation to find out if bicycle visibility could be increased by modifying the requirements listed in Title 16 Code of Federal Regulations 1512.16, and if so, modify the regulation accordingly.
- To the 50 states, the District of Columbia and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico: Mandate that all bicyclists wear and age-appropriate helmet when riding their bikes.
- To the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials: Utilize geometric design guidance materials on separated bike lines, intersection treatments, and the transition between them upon the next revision of the Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities.
Were You Injured in a Bicycle Accident? Call an Experienced California Bicycle Accident Lawyer
A variety of factors can cause bicycle accidents, but many times it is driver inattentiveness and poor infrastructure design. These accidents can leave victims with painful injuries that take over their lives. If this happened to you, there is help when you explore your legal options.
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