2016 Undergraduate Scholarship Winner, Amelia Fuchs
While only 1% of all trips taken in the U.S. are by bicycle1, bicyclists face a higher risk of crash-related injury and death than occupants of motor vehicles do2. In 2014, 726 people lost their lives in bicycle/motor vehicle accidents, almost 2 people per day, and a number that has been increasing since 20053!
An action plan created in 2001 by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) consisted of a series of five goals constructed to reduce pedestrian fatalities-
1. Motorists will share the road
2. Bicyclist will ride safely
3. Bicyclists will wear helmets
4. The legal system will support safe bicycling
5. Roads and paths will safely accommodate bicyclists4
With this proposal, I will discuss ways to continue the work done by the federal government, while suggesting strategies to more efficiently and productively prevent bicycle/motor vehicle accidents.
The objective of the first goal, “motorists will share the road”, was to make motor vehicle operators more aware that they must share the road with bicyclists. The movement required states to include “safe bicycling” instruction in driver’s education courses, and coordinated a “Share the Road” campaign to educate drivers. A problem educators run into is the audience reached by these campaigns. So much information is being thrown at the student at one time; it all begins to run together in the rush to get a license. Additionally, some drivers, especially in older demographics, are not aware of these issues and their incline, since they went through driver’s education before these goals were set. Therefore, while I do believe including bicycle safety in driver’s education is a good start, it must not be the end of motorist education. There should be some aspect of “Share the Road” campaigning and making all drivers more aware of pedicyclist accidents as a part of renewing a drivers license and have information posted at DMVs.
The second and third goals, “Bicyclists will ride safely” and “Bicyclists will wear helmets” make an effort to educate cyclists about the dangers of sharing a road with motor vehicles and encourage them to take necessary safety precautions, such as following traffic laws and wearing helmets. What they fail to improve, however, is the uneducated public and the cultural attitude towards helmets. Growing up, my dad was an avid cycler; we took family bike rides every week and rode our bikes to school many days. He always used these rides as opportunities to teach my sister and I about bicycle safety. Without his direction, I might not have known how to signal turns to cars or communicate with fellow pedestrians while using a bike. I certainly would not have known that cyclists are required to follow the same traffic laws as motor vehicle operators. Parents are a child’s most important teachers, but unfortunately, my sister and I are in the minority of kids to have learned bicycle skills and safety from a young age. While it may be unreasonable to expect every parent to teach these skills to their children, it is a reasonable assumption that many parents aren’t even aware of this task! It would be beneficial for elementary and middle schools to relay this information to parents, and for high schools to directly inform students about bicycle safety, perhaps in health or P.E. classes. If all children are made aware of the risks of riding without a helmet and in unsafe circumstances, maybe we can erase the “helmets are lame” idea that many preteens and teenagers cling to.
Finally, the fourth and fifth goals focus on the government’s roll in increasing the safety of all pedestrians, especially cyclists. These goals state that “the legal system will support safe bicycling” and “roads and paths will safely accommodate bicyclists”. These goals highlight the need for laws protecting bicyclists and infrastructure to accommodate safe bicycle use. Laws since this act have favored the cyclist unless obvious negligence is found on their part. In order to be proactive about preventing accidents, however, the state and local government must make an effort to prevent negligence on the driver’s part by driving distracted. A driver who is distracted by a cell phone, a GPS, car passengers, or unfamiliar surroundings does not see the cyclist, and therefore is not aware of the need to take extra precaution. Much of this solution comes back to driver education, however the government and law enforcement can also play a roll in preventing distracted driving. Police can survey the roads for signs of unaware drivers and issue more warnings or penalties, and cities can more clearly mark streets in advance to prevent drivers from paying more attention to where they need to go than to those they share the road with. The government is also able to improve infrastructure and create safe and clearly marked bike lanes for pedestrian use. These lanes provide a safe lane, wider than the shoulder, so that drivers are aware of biker’s location and are better able to avoid them. While this act has encouraged the building of these lanes in many cities, it has been a slow process, mostly due to lack of resources. In an effort to speed this process, citizens, again, must be educated and encouraged to communicate with local and state representatives the need for safe lanes for bicyclists.
1. Pucher J, Buehler R, Merom D, Bauman A. Walking and cycling in the United States, 2001–2009: Evidence from the National Household Travel Surveys. Am J Public Health 2011;101(S1):S310-S317).
2. Beck LF, Dellinger AM, O’Neil ME. Motor vehicle crash injury rates by mode of travel, United States: using exposure-based methods to quantify differences. Am J Epi 2007;166:212-8.
3. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, National Center for Statistics and Analysis. US Department of Transportation. Traffic Safety Facts 2014 Data: Bicyclists and Other Cyclists. May 2016. DOT HS 82 282
4. National Strategies for Advancing Bicycle Safety. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, US Department of Transportation- Federal Highway Administration, Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, Center for Disease Control. June 2001