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Exercise & Fitness
Bicycle injuries are mounting, especially in adults
- By: Beverly Merz, Executive Editor, Harvard Women's Health Watch
As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.
There is some myth about “truck’s blind spot” : most trucks are equipped with big, convex, WIDE-ANGLE MIRRORS and see EVERYTHING –quite UNlike the sideview mirrors on cars, e.g.! I suppose if one were right at/below such a mirror mounted on the door’s mirror mount –and there wasn’t one mounted up at the front corner of the truck, then one would be in a blind spot. Also, long trucks, in turning right, have to move out leftwards to gain enough room to bring their rear wheels around through the travel lane –sometimes, yes, they end up riding over the corner curb–; so, usually, a righthand turn by a tractor-trailer is something well indicated by vehicle behavior.
The advice section recommends wearing reflective clothing at night, but puts the recommendation for a light –and the sense I get is that what is meant is a HEADlight, not also a rear red blinky– in the next bullet!? There should be a recommendation for cyclists to wear conspicuous attire –“dayglo” or other bright attire; many folks ride around in what is more like camouflage, sadly. And, for rear red blinkies, think “3 is not too many; 1 might be too few!”
Without data on rates of cycling injuries relative to the number of cyclists and the number of miles they ride, the implication that the roads are getting more dangerous for cyclists is irresponsible and alarmist. For all we know the rate of injury per cyclist and/or per mile ridden could be going down.
As for safety, I recommend a class from Cycling Savvy if you can or a League of American Bicyclists Certified instructor. There are also books like Cyclecraft, Bicycling Street Smarts and Effective Cycling.
What is left out of this article, but reported in the original journal paper, is that the total number of cyclists is increasing, probably due to so many people choosing to bicycle commute to work. Of course the absolute number of injury rates will rise, relative to the total population. As suggested in the journal article, what is needed is to compare the rates of injury for all cyclists now vs. all cyclists in the past, but unfortunately, such historical data is not available.
There are big challenges facing our active and health conscience citizens today. Even though Governments and the policy makers around the globe encouraging communities to engage in active life styles, can our communities engage in active life styles without compromising their safety? “It’s ironic that Dr. Kurmann lost her life doing one of the things that kept her fit and healthy.” There is strong evidence out there on how to make cycling safer for our communities: (1). we need to increase access to more safer and separated cycling routes; (2). there is an urgent need for investments in cycling education programs in communities (3). drivers need to be educated about how to share the road with cyclist and other vulnerable road users, (4). effective laws to protect cyclists (5). encourage cyclists to wear safety helmets.
An irresponsible piece of journalism about biking injuries and deaths was published yesterday by National Public Radio under the headline, As More Adults Pedal, Their Biking Injuries and Deaths Spike, Too. The story noted the fact that the number of people biking regularly has substantially increased over the past several years, while spotlighting a “striking” rise in the number of injuries and deaths from cycling among adults. Much emphasis was placed on crashes involving middle aged men who, supposedly wanting to emulate disgraced former pro cyclist Lance Armstrong, ran out in droves a decade ago to purchase uberfast road bikes which they proceeded to crash.
Yes, bicycling has been on the rise for quite some time, particularly as a form of transportation, as opposed to recreation or sport. Chicago, for example, saw a 150 percent increase in the number of people bicycling to work between 2000 and 2010. Similarly, New York City has seen staggering growth in the number of people biking to work. Despite this growth, “Bicycling remains a healthful, inherently safe activity for tens of millions of people every year,” according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Tens of millions. In contrast, 743 bicycle related deaths were reported nationwide for the year 2013, according to U.S. DOT. In Chicago the number of fatal crashes decreased by 28 percent between 2005 and 2010, according to the Chicago Department of Transportation. While one death is one too many these numbers neither suggest that bicycling is exceptionally dangerous nor that it is becoming more so.
With more people riding their bikes there will naturally be more traffic crashes involving bicyclists. But more bicyclists on the road likely makes biking safer for the individual rider. The idea is that there is safety in numbers. As drivers get used to seeing more bikers, they are more likely to be on the lookout for dangerous interactions. It is true that, according to the U.S. DOT, “bicyclists seem to be over-represented in the crash data.” Bicycle trips account for one percent of all trips in the United States, yet represent nearly two percent of all traffic fatalities. But no reliable data exists to correlate the number of miles traveled by cyclists and the risks to which riders are exposed. “Until we have better exposure measures, we just don’t know how bicyclist risk compares to other modes,” says the U.S. DOT, adding, “But the health benefits of riding may offset some of this risk.”
But is the rate increasing because the absolute number of cyclists per 100,000 is up? Or the amount of time spent on a bike by the people who are riding them has increased? Does texting come into the equation? I find this article leaves me with more questions than it answers…
This is a chilling video of the rear wheels of sweeping through the bike lane during a right turn onto the BU bridge. Note if there were a bike in the lane, the bike and the biker would have been crushed.
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