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Oregon roads claimed 319 lives in 2011: Bike deaths more than doubled

Posted by on January 3rd, 2012 at 4:03 pm

Aftermath of a fatal crash on December 31st.
(Photo: Oregon State Police)

319 people died while traveling on Oregon roads in 2011; that’s two more than 2010 and the first increase since 2005. Another bit of preliminary data shows that 15 people on bicycles were killed last year — that’s a 114% increase from the seven lives lost in 2010 and it ties the highest bike fatality total since at least 2003.

The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) updated their crash statistics after five people were killed over the New Year’s holiday. The 319th fatality happened on the morning of December 31st, when a 38-year old Vancouver, Washington mad died after losing control of his pickup while driving on icy roads Highway 20 near Philomath.

ODOT expects to have final 2011 numbers out in about a month; but preliminary data supplied to BikePortland today shows that of the 319 fatalities, 15 of them were people on bicycles, or “pedalcyclists” to use ODOT’s terminology. That number is the highest it’s been since at least 2003 (that’s as far back as I have seen ODOT bike-specific fatality statistics). 15 people on bikes also died in 2007, but there were 455 total fatalities that year (compared to 319 in 2011).

While the number of “pedalcyclists” more than doubled, the number of pedestrians killed fell to 45 from a high of 61 last year (read more about that 2010 uptick in a Q & A we shared with ODOT’s Traffic Safety Division manager last year).

In the past decade, 4,740 people have died while traveling on Oregon roads. Below is a year-by-year breakdown (bicycling fatalities are in parentheses):

    2011 – 319 (15)
    2010 – 317 (7)
    2009 – 377 (8)
    2008 – 416 (10)
    2007 – 455 (15)
    2006 – 478 (14)
    2005 – 487 (11)
    2004 – 456 (9)
    2003 – 512 (8)
    2002 – 436
    2001 – 487

And here’s a chart with more yearly data taken from ODOT’s recently adopted Traffic Safety Action Plan (TSAP).

ODOT has made significant progress in traffic safety as fatality and injury rates have plummeted in past decades; but as we shared back in August, traffic crashes are still the leading cause of death in Oregon for people under 35 years of age and they cost our state an estimated $2.58 billion in total economic loss — or about $657 dollars per Oregon resident (according to the National Safety Council).

In October 2011, the State of Oregon officially adopted an update to their Traffic Safety Action Plan. That 94 page plan outlines a number of “Actions” and “Emphasis areas” such as toughening drunk driving laws, improving driver education programs and considering new legislation, “requiring the inclusion of helmets, reflective gear and lighting with new bicycles.”

In the plan’s Executive Summary, ODOT acknowledges that business as usual won’t result in a major reduction in fatalities:

“Moderate reductions in Oregon’s highway death toll can be continued through current programs, but a sustained, concentrated effort will prevent many crashes and save a significant number of lives and dollars.”

And of course there’s a lot of work to do if Oregon is to reach the vision of the future laid out in the plan:

“The Oregon Transportation Safety Action Plan envisions a future where Oregon’s transportation-related death and injury rate continues to decline. We envision a day when days, then weeks and months pass with not a single fatal or debilitating injury occurs. someday, we see a level of zero annual fatalities and few injuries as the norm.”

To learn more about what these numbers mean, stay tuned for more coverage and delve into them yourself via ODOT’s Crash Analysis & Reporting web page.

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9watts
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9watts

Thanks very much for highlighting this issue, Jonathan.

Maybe someone should remind Amanda Fritz of these statistics in relation to her belief that pedalcyclists on downtown sidewalks are so disproportionately dangerous that she felt it worth withholding funding from bike infrastructure until cyclists did a better job of remonstrating their fellow cyclists.

9watts
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9watts

Here’s the quote from a Dec. 7 bikeportland article:

“In August, she told us she would vote for the City’s federal funding request for a bike-sharing system only when, “I see bike riders using downtown streets and sidewalks in a safe manner.” She said she regularly sees “cyclists… endangering and harassing pedestrians” on the sidewalk and that, “The cycling community seems to be doing little or nothing to educate riders or reduce these dangerous behaviors.”

9watts
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9watts

Small correction:
“In the past decade, 4,740 people have died while traveling on Oregon roads.”
the statistics show that was for the past 11 years.

Jonathan,
do you happen to know the number of pedestrians killed on our roads? Seeing those alongside the other numbers would be useful I’d think. I assume they are included in those tallies above?

Champs
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Champs

Without trying to sound callous, but I’d like to see what the numbers say for 12 month periods not defined by calendar year. All other things remaining the same, deaths will increase if more bicycle miles are ridden—maybe the weather was nicer last year than 2010.

Given those numbers, there’s about 10.8 deaths per year, with anywhere from 7-14 deaths being within a standard deviation. If you don’t speak mathese, that’s only half the difference used to separate average intellect from genius/mental retardation.

Albyn
Guest
Albyn

Translation of Champs: No evidence of a trend or a surprisingly large number.

More statistics: if deaths are roughly a Poisson process, with mean 10.8 per year, then neither 7 nor 15 is a surprising count.

Albyn
Guest
Albyn

To illustrate, here are three sequences of 9 observations from a Poisson distribution with mean 10.8:

> rpois(9,10.8)
[1] 15 12 9 9 8 12 15 10 9
> rpois(9,10.8)
[1] 9 8 11 20 12 9 12 11 14
> rpois(9,10.8)
[1] 10 17 9 9 5 9 14 9 21

Chris I
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Chris I

It’s interesting that, although the number of registered vehicles has been increasing slightly, Vehicle Miles Traveled have been steadily decreasing through the decade. Why do we need the CRC again?

Jack
Guest
Jack

Does anyone have stats on how many people died while riding a bicycle where the event did not involve a motor vehicle? I’d have to assume its a very low number.

I ask because it seems like that information would be very applicable in arguing for separated bikeways. Bicycling doesn’t kill people (often), collisions with vehicles kill people.

Travis
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Travis

any idea on how these numbers on bike fatalities compare to ridership? feels like more people are riding every year, (tell me if that’s in fact true) then more people on bikes + more miles being logged would increase the chances of being in an accident…all other things being equal.

Chuck Brock
Guest
Chuck Brock

For cost/benefit calculations, the EPA considers a human life to be worth $7.9 million. So let’s see, 4,740 people killed by vehicles in the last decade gives more than $37 billion in “value to society” lost. Not to mention the emotional impact on loved ones. Seems like a reasonable fraction of that figure could go a long way toward improving infrastructure on the streets for all users, resulting in a net economic, societal, and emotional benefits.

Tim
Guest
Tim

The people and their representative government feel that 319 deaths is a small price to pay. Traffic fines for speeding were recently reduced and there is not the political will to enforce traffic laws.

Economics shows that if you increase the cost (ticket price) and increase enforcement, demand (traffic violations) will go down. And, since all traffic fatalities involve the illegal operation of a motor vehical, deaths will go down.

The math is simple, but the will is not.

Paul Johnson
Guest
Paul Johnson

Wrong city in the masthead pic.

pdxpaul
Guest
pdxpaul

I love that geeky trolls are accusing you of sexying up your headlines, Jonathan.

Every bicycle death this year, to me, was unexpected. And significant.

I don’t care how someone tries to minimize using z-scores, logs, or integrals, 15 lives is more than double 7 lives. Is significant. And is a jaw-stopping reverse to a three-year downward trend. And is also a variance of 8, year over year, the highest variance noted in the data provided. Thank you for your concern and writing about this.

The thing that stood out here to me in your report, though, was the recommendation about reflective gear, helmets, and lighting. Interference with the free market, consumer choice, and adding about $100 to the retail price of a bike? Um, BAD idea.

And I am a helmet advocate.

q`Tzal
Guest
q`Tzal

We need a blogger like Bill Nye: The Statistics Guy.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

15 deaths is too many, but a single year in Oregon is too small a sample to tell us (on its own) whether a trend is going on. Expand to the nation as a whole, though, and the trend is clear:

1. Death rates of people IN motor vehicles continue a substantial and steady decline thanks to mind-boggling improvements in automotive safety.

2. Death rates of people OUTSIDE motor vehicles (both pedestrians and cyclists) continue to hold steady or rise slightly. Cars may be getting safer, but drivers are getting more dangerous: more aggressive and more distracted.

Martin
Guest
Martin

Thanks for showing the data. I agree with the other commenters that statistically the current numbers are pretty much in line with the trend. I think the headline and tone of the article were appropriate.

Some additional context that is think would be very interesting is if the bicycle deaths occurred in areas where there are lots of bike infrastructure (like in Portland). The real question is how much does investing in bike specific infrastructure reduce bike fatalities. We would also have to account for bike miles traveled in different areas because obviously areas with good infrastructure have more bike activity and more opportunity for collisions. This data may not exist, but if it does it would be cool to put it all together and see it.