Bicyclists and Other Cyclists: 2008 Data

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s 2008 Traffic Safety Facts: Bicyclists and Other Cyclists is now available on the NHTSA website.

While it’s always a little sobering to look at accident and fatality statistics, the good news is that the numbers are relatively low and fatalities have dropped over the past 10 years:

The number of pedalcyclist fatalities in 2008 is 6 percent lower than the 760
fatalities reported in 1998. The highest number of pedalcyclist fatalities ever recorded in the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) was 1,003 in 1975. Pedalcyclists accounted for 14 percent of all nonoccupant traffic fatalities in 2008.

Deleware and Florida were the two most dangerous states for bicyclists with 6.97 and 6.82 fatalities per million population. Nebraska, South Dakota, and Vermont all had zero fatalities in 2008.

A surprising statistic is the number of bicyclists who were under the influence of alcohol when they were killed:

Over one-fourth (28%) of the pedalcyclists killed had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .01 g/dL or higher, and nearly one-fourth (23%) had a BAC of .08 g/dL or higher.

The NHTSA offers some safety tips at the end of the fact sheet that are worth noting (let’s not turn this into a helmet war, please):

Important Safety Reminders
All bicyclists should wear properly fitted bicycle helmets every time they ride. A helmet is the single most effective way to prevent head injury resulting from a bicycle crash.

Bicyclists are considered vehicle operators; they are required to obey the same rules of the road as other vehicle operators, including obeying traffic signs, signals, and lane markings. When cycling in the street, cyclists must ride in the same direction as traffic.

Drivers of motor vehicles need to share the road with bicyclists. Be courteous — allow at least three feet clearance when passing a bicyclist on the road, look for cyclists before opening a car door or pulling out from a parking space, and yield to cyclists at intersections and as directed by signs and signals. Be especially watchful for cyclists when making turns, either left or right.

Bicyclists should increase their visibility to drivers by wearing fluorescent or brightly colored clothing during the day, dawn, and dusk. To be noticed when riding at night, use a front light and a red reflector or flashing rear light, and use retro-reflective tape or markings on equipment or clothing.

View the Fact Sheet [PDF] →

12 Responses to “Bicyclists and Other Cyclists: 2008 Data”

  • John says:

    Nebraska, South Dakota, and Vermont all had zero fatalities in 2008

    There was also zero fatalities in Portland, OR in 2008. Granted, it’s a not a whole state, but I would be willing to bet there’s more cyclists and motorists in the Portland metro than any of those three states (definitely more cyclists). That’s something to celebrate. 2009 didn’t fare so with at least a few fatalities to date.

  • Michael says:

    I always find it funny when committees, governments, or organizations make recommendations about lights and reflectors. In this instance, it is at the bottom of the list of recommendations, which is utterly retarded.

    First off, they say very clearly that helmets are “the single most effective way to prevent head injury resulting from a bicycle crash.” This is definitely true; what could possibly prevent a head injury more than a helmet if you’re actually IN a crash? Diving in a really SMART way? Not likely.

    But like most things American, the concern is afterthought. There is not enough emphasis on how to PREVENT crashes in the first place.

    Considering how many drunk cyclists were on this fatality list, I am tempted to say that most of them were riding at night. And in general, I would be tempted to say that more than half of bicycle fatalities happen after dark. There are not enough statistics on this, but I think it’s a safe assumption since automobile fatalities skyrocket after dark as well.

    That said, I think it is silly to merely recommend USING lights and reflectors. What kind of lights? What is a lumen? Are there lumen requirements? Should I get a rear light AND a rear reflector? What are the benefits and detriments of having a light blink versus steady?

    I work in a shop and I can tell you that the majority of people know next to nothing about lighting; they don’t know the laws and they often have very inefficient or non-visible systems set up on their bikes.

    There are many questions to be answered about bicycle lighting. And they are important, because it is probably the single best way to AVOID any type of collision.

  • macwestie says:

    Speaking of cycling fatalities this ran this morning in the Idaho Statesman in Boise

    We had 3 fatalities this year.

  • velocentric says:

    You cannot have enough lighting! An early morning entanglement with downed powerlines taught me to always pack a powerful headlight even in urban areas.
    I have as much or more invested in lights than in all three of my bikes. Over the years I would say that lights have the most difference in cars keeping a respectful distance while passing and stopping left cross incidents. I keep at least two powerful blinkies on the tail and two headlights on the bar. One weak/blinker for recognition and one powerful one for illumination. Whenever someone kids me about my lights I have a good answer. “…because I’ve been hit “

  • Larey says:

    The study says cyclists account for 2% of all accidents, but what percentage are we of traffic??? I”m easily outnumbered 200 to 1 by cars on my normal commute which makes me only 0.5% of the total traffic. I’m not sure if that means anything.

    And I’m very surprised that 64% of fatalities are at non-intersection locations. Is that because of speed? Pity there isn’t a breakout of all accidents instead of just fatalities because I’ve always felt intersections were the most dangerous places.

    I had 2 close calls and one minor collision in the dark hours this fall, all coming from the side. I was running good lights in all cases, so after looking at my bike in the dark from the side, I added all sorts of reflective tape. It looks kinda tacky, but like

    @velocentric says

    “.. because I’ve been hit.”

  • Giffe says:

    “All bicyclists should wear properly fitted bicycle helmets every time they ride. A helmet is the single most effective way to prevent head injury resulting from a bicycle crash.”

    No, the most effective way to prevent head injuries is to not crash in the first place. Wise safety tips always seem to stress using a helmet, but never to ride carefully and slowly rather than pretend you’re a car.

  • Zweiradler says:

    I wouldn’t say that the fatalities have dropped. I don’t see a tendency. The image only shows that the number is always around 700 (sometimes more, sometimes less).
    While I don’t agree with all of the “safety” reminders, I am pleased to see that they also included reminders for motorists.


  • David says:

    Drunk cyclists being killed? Not to surprising. There are folks here on Martha’s Vineyard who have lost their license to drive because of DUIs. I’ve encountered drunk cyclists numerous times when riding at night though the last inebriated cyclist I encountered, thinking he was having a mechanical problem, I stopped to help, was the week before last at 9:30 AM on a sunny morning.

    He reeked of booze and had a stainless steel bottle in his water bottle cage with some kind of liquor in it.

    I myself have been accused of being homeless or of having lost my license to drive because of DUIs.

    Why else would a 56 year old male ride a bicycle?

    Surely not from choice…..LOL

  • Alan says:


    “I wouldn’t say that the fatalities have dropped. I don’t see a tendency.”

    What’s not captured in the graph is that the number of bicyclists has increased over the same period.

  • J says:

    I’d like to see a few other things included in the numbers, like:

    1998-2008 increase/decrease in bicycle ridership numbers
    1998-2008 miles of bicycle infrastructure buildout nationwide
    1998-2008 overall population increase

    What’s most interesting is that all three of these numbers increased, while the fatality rate has remained relatively unchanged. All in all, it further backs up Jacobsen’s “Safety in Numbers” studies, and promotes the need to continue building a European styled bicycle network here.

  • Zweiradler says:

    @ Alan:
    Thanks for the clarification.

  • Mohjho says:

    Got to have a light and rear reflector here in Chico Ca. after dark or ya get a ticket.
    Lots of riders here in a small physical location. Driving a car at night can be terrifying when encountering blacked out bicycles darting in and out of the darkness all around you.

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