Bicycle Safety

Dovie Salais

Bicycle Safety Introduction Bicycling is a common means of transportation as well as an increasingly popular source of recreation, exercise, and sport. With more than 100 million bicycle owners, the popularity of bicycling has reached an all-time high. Along with increased use of bicycles comes the risk of […]

Bicycle Safety Introduction

Bicycling is a common means of transportation as well as an increasingly popular source of recreation, exercise, and sport. With more than 100 million bicycle owners, the popularity of bicycling has reached an all-time high.

Along with increased use of bicycles comes the risk of significant injuries. According to national statistics, more than 1.8 billion bicycle outings occur each year, resulting in nearly 494,000 visits to emergency departments. Injuries related to bicycling range from common abrasions, cuts, and bruises to broken bones, internal injuries, head trauma, and even death.

More than 900 bicyclists die annually, and 20,000 are admitted to hospitals. From a statistical standpoint, bicycle riding has a higher death rate per trip or per mile of travel than being a passenger in an automobile. The majority of bicycle deaths are caused by head injuries.

The most common cause of bicycle crashes are falls or collisions with stationary objects.

Principles of Bicycle Safety


The best preparation for safe bicycle riding is proper training. Common resources for training include an experienced rider, parent, or community program. Often, however, initial training involves simple instruction from parents on balance and pedaling.

Proper supervision of younger riders is a must . In fact, it is recommended that younger children ride only in enclosed areas.

Early investment in safety equipment such as protective clothing and a helmet can prevent a significant number of injuries. Proper equipment safety preparation include:

  • Helmets – Extremely important
  • Reflective clothing for nighttime or low-visibility conditions
  • Bicycle safety equipment (reflectors on frame and wheels)
  • Proper bicycle selection
  • Proper bicycle maintenance

Consider these ideas to help further reduce the risk of a bicycle accident.

  • A bicycle should only be used in a way that’s appropriate for the age of the rider.
  • A bicycle rider needs to have the proper experience and skill before riding on public roads.
  • Less experienced bicyclists should learn the rules of the road.
  • Both bicyclists and motorists need to understand how to safely and courteously share the road.
  • Both motorist and bicyclist need to observe the proper speed limits, yield right-of-way, not drive while drinking.
  • Bicyclists need to be aware of their surroundings. Watch for opening car doors, sewer grating, debris on the roads, uneven surfaces, and poorly lit areas.


Obeying traffic rules can help ensure safe travel.

  • Cyclists need to follow the same rules as motorists.
  • Always use correct hand signals before turning.
  • Ride in single file with traffic, not against it.

Use these guidelines to increase cycling safety:

  • Avoid major roads and sidewalks.
  • Announce your presence (“On your left”) on bike and walking trails as you come up behind and pass pedestrians and other riders.

Enforcement and legislation can increase bicycle safety. Promote safety by supporting:

  • The mandated use of protective devices (helmets, reflectors)
  • Bicycle-friendly community and community planning, for example establishing bicycle lanes and bike trails or rails-to-trails

Reasons for Bicycle Crashes


Most bicycle accidents occur when a cyclist falls or crashes into a stationary object. Crashes are more likely to occur in conjunction with adverse conditions related to:

  • Weather
  • Road conditions
  • Mechanical failure
  • Poor rider judgment
  • Excessive speed
  • Lack of attention
  • Breach of traffic regulations
  • Coordination problems

Although the rules of the road and right of way are the same for both cyclists and motorists, other factors contribute to the disharmony that can occur between cyclists and drivers. Many motor vehicle drivers are often simply not aware of the presence of a cyclist on the road. In low-visibility conditions or at night bicyclists are difficult to see. The use of reflectors and a bicycle headlight gives you greater visibility to drivers.

Problems with alcohol can contribute to accidents, and inappropriate alcohol use is not limited to motorists.

  • About 37% of traffic crashes that resulted in deaths of bicycle riders involved alcohol intoxication by the motorist or the bicyclist.
  • In about 28% of all bicycle-related fatalities, it is the bicyclist who was intoxicated, not the motorist.

Many bicycle crashes occur when a bicyclist is riding against oncoming traffic.

Many people assume that riding a bicycle on sidewalks is safer than on roads. However, the risk of injury increases significantly if you ride on sidewalks. This may be due to the presence of pedestrians and stationary objects (parking meters, for example) lining sidewalks as well as a preference by inexperienced bicyclists to use sidewalks for bicycle travel.

In addition, children who generally are not experienced riders tend to crash while riding a bicycle for the first time or while riding a bike they are unfamiliar with.


Characteristics of Accident Victims


Children, teens, and young adults (from 5-24 years of age) account for about 60% of all bicycle-related injuries. Teens and young adults (ages 15 to 19) and adults (ages 40 and older) have the highest rate of bicycle deaths

Men account for almost 90% of all bicycle injuries and deaths. Officials attribute this to males riding more than females.

Younger cyclists who are not familiar with rules of the road are far more likely to cause and be involved in a serious accident. Some advocate that children younger than age 8 should not be allowed on public roads.

Statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reveal that most bicycle deaths occur during the summer months, and almost 65% of the deaths occur between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m.

More bicyclists are killed in urban areas than rural areas, and more than half of bicycle deaths occur on major roads. More than one third of deaths occur at an intersection.

Almost one third of bicyclist fatalities occur on highways or freeways.

Preventing Injuries

Many injuries can be prevented by proper selection equipment, adjustment of the bicycle to the individual rider, and proper maintenance.

Appropriately-sized frames, handlebar, and seat heights, as well as understanding how the gear system works, help reduce injuries.

Legislation Promoting Safety


Perhaps the easiest step a rider can take to prevent bicycle related injury and death is to wear a helmet. Unfortunately, many riders disregard this, placing themselves at great risk.

Mandatory helmet laws do increase helmet use, which reduces significantly the number and severity of head injuries. Studies show that use of helmets can reduce severe injuries by almost 85% in addition to reducing the number of bicycle-related fatalities.

Simply owning a helmet will not insure safety. It must be used! Children should be monitored to be certain that they are not avoiding helmet use because of peer pressure.

Helmet need to fit properly be worn correctly. A proper fit helps a bicyclist get the full benefit of helmet use. A poorly fitting helmet will provide significantly less protection.

Currently, only 21 states have laws requiring helmet use by young bicyclists. Some local communities have enacted ordinances mandating the use of helmets while bicycling. Over two-thirds of bicycle-related deaths could be prevented by the use of a protective helmet.


Safety in Off-Road Conditions


Bicycle riding has evolved from a mode of transportation to a widely enjoyed hobby and recreational sport. Off-road riding and racing has certainly increased in popularity in recent years.

The majority of off-road injuries involve cuts and scrapes to the arms and legs. However, off-road or all-terrain cyclists sustain more severe injuries-such as fractures and dislocations-than road cyclists.

Synonyms and Keywords


bike safety, bicycle safety, bicycle helmets, bike helmets



 eMedicineHealth: “Bicycle Safety.” 

CDC: “Bicycle Safety.” “Bicycles.” “Traffic Safety Facts: Bicyclists and Other Cyclists.” “Bicycle, Skate and Skateboard Safety Fact Sheet (2013).”

Governors Highway and Safety Association: “Helmet Laws: July 2014.”

Insurance Institute For Highway Safety: “Pedestrians and bicyclists.”


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