More Bicycle Accident Statistics and the Folly of Wrong-Way Riding

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog (Bicycle Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics) about the media’s use of statistics, especially when it comes to bicycle accident statistics. This came up again this week when the San Diego Union Tribute published an article leading with “Cyclists faulted most in bike-car crashes” (which Dan Walters subsequently retweeted). Reading the article, San Diego-area cyclists were responsible for 56 percent of car-bike accidents, so cyclists are hardly responsible for every accident out there. The article also raised many issues with data collection, such as underreporting by accident victims and law enforcement. I also went to the Union Tribune’s sources, the California Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System, and could not for the life of me figure out where they got their numbers from. Nonetheless, two things stuck out (and the validity of the statistics aren’t the point of this blog anyway).

For as much as people complain about bicyclists blowing stop signs, the Union Tribune attributes most bike-car collisions where a person on a bike is at fault to the person on the bike riding against traffic on the wrong side of the street. This has been noted in Long Beach and the Sacramento City/County Bikeway Master Plan notes that in about 70% of bicycle-motor vehicle accidents the person on the bike is riding in violation of the vehicle code and the major infraction is riding against traffic. Recently, NYPD stopped Alec Baldwin for riding against traffic. They later arrested the actor when he became belligerent.

Actor Alec Baldwin in New York, who got arrested after NYPD stopped him for riding the wrong way on 5th Avenue and 16th Street. He was equally irate that the officers didn’t know who he was.

Part of this may be educational. Many think that, since you walk facing traffic you also ride facing traffic. However, a startling number of people seem to think they are safer riding against traffic, because they can see oncoming traffic. Finally, long one-way streets make it easy for convenience to outweigh risk (for some people at least). Solutions include fewer one way streets, one-way streets that are not long enough to encourage wrong-way riding, clear signage and markings, and street designs where people can feel comfortable enough to ride with traffic.

Sometimes you have to make it really simple for people.

The other item that stuck out to me in the Union-Tribune article was that bicyclists between the ages of 15 and 19 were most likely to be involved in crashes were those most likely to be found at fault. Similarly, the Sacramento Bicycle Master Plan notes that, while children bicyclists are usually legally at fault in bicycle-motor vehicle accidents, the opposite is true for adult bicycle accidents. Again, since it’s unknown whether these numbers are out of line with the ages of people riding or how this compared to accidents rates for teenage drivers. Depending on the statistics, this could be more a problem with teenagers than with bicycling. However, if children and teenagers are indeed at increased risk then we need to need to get past just telling them to wear helmets and incorporate programs like the Safe Routes to School curriculum into schools. Unfortunately, since schools are already so overwhelmed that the possibility of adding anything is pretty contentious.

If you want to improve bicycling in your community, encourage your local schools to incorporate Safe Routes to School curriculum into its program.

In would be all too easy to look at the Union-Tribune’s headline and think bicyclists are a bunch of scofflaws, when in fact the majority of at-fault bicyclists are probably either people who are making good-faith efforts to ride safely (in the case of people riding against traffic) or teenagers and children who are either more risk-prone or too young to know better.

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