Cycling safety: how to keep risks to a minimum

Concern for safety is a consideration which prevents many people from attempting cross-country bicycle touring. "There is undoubtedly a real element of risk involved," admits David Prouty, executive director of Bikecentennial.

However, a 1976 study the bicycle-touring group did for the US Department of Transportation suggests that there are a number of ways a cyclist can reduce risks to a minimum.

This study has as its base the experience of the 4,065 cyclists who rode a total of 10.4 million miles on the TransAmerica route during the US bicentennial. These riders experienced only 50 to 75 percent of the accidents anticipated from other studies: 80 accidents per million miles cycled. The low rate was due, in part, to the fact that the TransAmerica route was chosen with safety in mind and used rural roads extensively.

Young riders -- 16 to 20 years old -- had a substantially higher accident rate than older, more conservative riders. Those with the lowest accident rate tended to be older and married; they had a definite riding technique, obeyed traffic regulations, always wore bright clothing, and made periodic safety checks of their equipment.

Oddly enough, the most frequent mishaps involved collisions between bike riders. These generally caused only "scrapes and bruises." Motor vehicles were involved in only 18 percent of the total number of accidents but were more serious in consequence.

Bikecentennial found that road conditions had much to do with accidents. They credit good highway design and maintenance for the extremely low accident rates recorded in Missouri and Montana. Poor roads, with heavy coal truck traffic, resulted in a higher accident rate in Kentucky.

In general, Bikecentennial believes it should be possible to reduce bicycle fatalities by at least 50 percent through cyclist and driver education, road and bicycle equipment improvements, and careful route preparation.

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