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Biking, walking, and NHTSA’s latest Traffic Safety Facts data

Posted by on January 24th, 2011 at 11:36 am

With Oregon lawmakers set to get down to business in the coming weeks, it’s a good time to prepare for the upcoming debates by brushing up on the latest traffic safety data.

The early edition of the 2009 Traffic Safety Facts is a 232 page compilation of national traffic collision data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) and General Estimate System (GES) published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (PDF here). This is an early report (2010 data is not expected to be available until early 2012), but it still contains several gems of information.

Although the focus of the report is on motor vehicles, the report provides meaningful data on the casualties of motor-vehicle collisions. According to the report, there were 5.5 million police-reported motor vehicle traffic collisions in 2009 with a total death toll of 33,808 and with an additional 2,217,000 people injured.

Overall, fatal crashes decreased 9.9% from 2008 to 2009 and the non-occupant fatalities rate per 100,000 population has decreased 60.2% from 1975 to 2009, per the report.

People killed while walking and bicycling accounted for 5% of the fatalities in 2009: 630 Americans died and 51,000 were injured by motor vehicles while bicycling and 4,092 Americans were killed and 59,000 were injured while walking.

Tables 101 through 105 in Chapter 4 of the report break down the bicycling casualties by various factors with the following highlights:

  • 33.2% (209) of bicycling fatalities were in an intersection; 66% (416) were killed in non-intersections (5 were killed in unknown areas).
  • 137 people between the ages of 45 and 54 were killed while bicycling, the highest number of any age group.
  • Light trucks were involved with 270 of the bicycling fatalities, passenger cars 237, and buses 3.
  • More people were killed (89) or injured (12,000) while bicycling between 3 pm and 6 pm; more than any other three hour time slot.
  • Failure to yield right of way by the bicycle operator was listed as a factor in 117 of the fatalities, more than any other reported factor.
  • Operating a bicycle in an “Erratic, reckless, careless or negligent operation” was not reported as a factor in any of the deaths.

Tables 96 through 100 in Chapter of the report list the various factors that led to fatal crashes between a motor vehicle and someone walking. Here are two highlights:

  • 24.1% (986) of pedestrians killed were in intersections; 74.8% (3,061) were in areas other than an intersection.
  • Improper crossing of roadway or intersection was listed as a factor in 842 pedestrian deaths, more than any other factor.

As we’ve already seen here in Oregon, legislators have major concerns about traffic safety. Statistics should play a large role in that discussion and NHTSA data is a great resource. Check out NHTSA.gov/FARS to learn more.

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  • Sean G January 24, 2011 at 12:56 pm

    Well, seeing those startling infant bicycle-related death figures, and large attribution of “Personal listening devices” as contributing cause of adult bicycling death really do add some credibility to upcoming Oregon legislation.

    Wait a minute…

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    • Marcus Griffith January 24, 2011 at 1:14 pm

      Exactly. It’s nice to have the numbers before making a law.

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  • Dan January 24, 2011 at 2:06 pm

    Would be interesting to know how many were related to environmental issues, like poorly lit, no shoulder, sidewalk, etc. I would think that the largest contributor to these would be a factor such as these,,,

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  • Alan January 24, 2011 at 2:54 pm

    “630 Americans died and 51,000 were injured by motor vehicles while bicycling and 4,092 Americans were killed and 59,000 were injured while walking.”

    I’m guessing there are ten or a hundred times more pedestrians than bikes (anyone know?). So, it seems that for any unit of time spent biking or walking, the likelihood of an injury collision with a car is much higher for bikes than peds, but once a collision occurs the likelihood of a fatal collision is much lower for bikes. I wonder what that’s all about?

    BTW, anyone else find it , ahh, unfortunate those acronyms could be phonetically parsed as “farce” and “guess?” ;^)

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    • A.K. January 25, 2011 at 8:43 am

      I wonder if it has anything to do with bikes sometimes traveling the same direction as the car at the time of impact, reducing the overall “speed” of the collision (40 MPH car – 15 MPH cyclist = 25 MPH net collision speed. Does this math even apply during impact? I have no real idea, I’m no physics expert).

      Another idea is that when an impact happens, the bicycle can be hit rather than the rider, thus sparing the rider from a “direct” impact from the vehicle, where they are instead hurt by secondary means (hitting the ground, hitting the car with their body, etc.). I imagine it is much worse to take the full impact with your body as a pedestrian would than to have some of the impact absorbed by the bike.

      The one time I was hit by a motor vehicle they only hit my bike (in the rear wheel) and not me, and I managed to keep myself upright. But it could have been worse…

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  • q`Tzal January 24, 2011 at 3:04 pm

    I can’t dig throught the document on my dumbphone but I suspect that over the course of the collection of data since 1975 that while motor vehicle collision related deaths have gone down that the overall annual total collisions have gone up.
    I believe that automobiles that are safer in crashes have maded drivers more care less; this should also show in an increased share of pedesdtrian and cyclist deaths over the study’s time frame.

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  • Perry Hunter January 24, 2011 at 3:10 pm

    “137 people between the ages of 45 and 54 were killed while bicycling, the highest number of any age group.”

    Uh-oh…maybe I need to get an iPod, a Jayne hat and some wooly knickers after all.

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  • davemess January 24, 2011 at 3:18 pm

    •Failure to yield right of way by the bicycle operator was listed as a factor in 117 of the fatalities, more than any other reported factor

    Like the bicycle ran a stop sign or light? Seems pretty high of a percentage (almost 20%). This sounds like a loaded question, kind of like bikes are always supposed to yield right of way to cars. And who is the one doing the reporting, in these instances, it was obvioulsy the mororist as they cyclist ended up deceased. I wounder how many just made something up like, “he came out of no where and weaved into my lane”.

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    • Jackattak January 24, 2011 at 3:27 pm

      While you might have a point there, there are cameras at just about every intersection of urban Amurka nowadays and the number one traffic violation I see cyclists participating in is running stoplights/stop signs.

      If that 20% number is honestly that hard for you to take, you should come ride with me Downtown. A couple hours of watching cyclists blow lights 20 feet in front of buses of MAX trains might help you understand better.

      Frankly I thought the 20% number was too low.

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      • davemess January 25, 2011 at 11:11 am

        I”m not doubting that people run stop signs/lights (I do it myself from time to time). I’m just doubting that this is the reason for 20% of the deaths of people on bicycles in the US.

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    • Marcus Griffith January 24, 2011 at 4:08 pm

      Yes, the fact that dead cyclists tell no tales has long been a factor in understanding what exactly happened when a cyclist is killed in automobile collision.

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  • Marcus Griffith January 24, 2011 at 4:12 pm

    Other cyclists behaviors that were reported as factors in fatal car vs. bike collisions:
    Under the influence of alcahol, drugs or medication: 67.
    Failure to obey (signs etc): 60
    Walking, playing, working in roadway: 51
    (this one confuses me a bit, walking a bike???)
    And for the headphone debate:
    Portaable eletronic devices: 2
    But 239 cases had “non reported”.

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  • PorterStout January 25, 2011 at 12:44 pm

    Cyclists are of course typically in the roadway with cars so you would expect a higher percentage of accidents between the two than with pedestrians. I wonder how often factors like either no or insufficient lights come into play? I was behind a guy last week that almost got creamed because he had no lights whatsover, and it was DARK. For the life of me (literally), I can’t understand how it’s uncool to try to make yourself visible to other vehicles moving at high speed with other headlights in their eyes and other distractions. Seems pretty Darwinian to me.

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  • Dan January 26, 2011 at 8:37 am

    Check out this article, altho its dated 2007 its summary is worth pondering, Ride legally, and stay visible. I would add ride like your invisible….

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  • Dan January 26, 2011 at 8:37 am

    http://www.raisethehammer.org/article/617 Forgot to paste the url….

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  • q`Tzal January 29, 2011 at 9:20 pm

    On PDF page 156
    Document page 140
    Table 105 “Pedalcyclists Killed, by Related Factors
    Line item “Not visible”: this needs to be clarified.

    If a cyclist was not visible because it was night time and the cyclist did not have any reflective gear nor lights then it should fall under the preceeding category of “Operating without required equipment for night cycling”.

    If a cyclist was not seen because the automobile driver was inattentive then the these deaths need to be put in the “Inattentive (talking, eating, etc.)” category and some indication needs to show that the auto driver shares the blame.

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  • Sal February 2, 2011 at 6:09 pm

    As a pedestrian, I feel I’m more likely to be killed by a bicyclist than by a car. Seriously. Not sure why some cyclists have declared a war on pedestrians, but it can stop any time now.

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