The League of American Bicyclists Data Makes it Clear Who's at Fault in Bike Fatalities

Categories: bikes

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The League of American Bicyclists has put out a report full of some disturbing data about the way that cyclists die in collisions in this country. The Every Bicyclist Counts report illustrates just how rarely cyclists are at fault in the event of a fatal crash.

I looked at the reports on cycling deaths her in San Francisco over the last couple years to see if they line up with the data that the League of American Bicycles has released.

The collision data available on San Francisco cycling fatalities is right inline with the statistics in the Every Cyclist Counts report. A large majority of the cyclist fatalities recorded in the last few years are rear-end collisions or collisions where the driver is overtaking the cyclist. The data collected by the League of American Bicyclists matches the last information about collision types recorded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as well.


According to the League of American Bicyclists, 40 percent of cyclists killed by vehicles in this country are struck from behind. No other collision type ranked over 11 percent (cyclist side/car front). Perhaps unsurprisingly, the majority of cycling fatalities in the United States take place on urban arterial roads, with a near-even split between intersection and non intersection-related accidents.

Half of the cycling fatalities in the last several years in San Francisco have been caused by a vehicle overtaking a cyclist. These accidents take place outside of intersections. There have also been several rear-end collisions or reports of vehicles running over cyclists. In most of other remaining cases, the cyclist was the victim of a right-hook, or was overtaken by a turning vehicle. In only one case did there seem to be any indication that the cyclist was traveling the wrong way on a one-way - in all the other fatalities, the motorist was almost certainly at fault.


The majority of the fatal collisions in San Francisco take place on urban arterial streets. Van Ness, Folsom, Bryant, King, Oak, Mission, 6th, Masonic, are all at least collectors if not major arterial streets.

What does this all tell us about cycling deaths in San Francisco? First and foremost that they are mostly preventable. Simple bike lanes with barriers on the major arterial streets where many of these accidents take place would protect cyclists from cars with inattentive or careless drivers. Lowering speed limited on those arterial streets would also likely help prevent fatal collisions. As I've discussed before, the chances of a pedestrian or cyclist being killed when struck by a car goes up dramatically when the vehicle is traveling faster than 25 mph.

This data -- combined with ridership information like that data from Strava I talked about last week -- could go into planning out bike infrastructure that could all but put an end to cycling fatalities. That sounds like a pretty good goal to me. In fact, it is the city's goal -- remember Vision Zero?

Leif Haven is a writer and cyclist living in the Bay Area. He can be spotted dragging himself up a hill -- literally and metaphorically.

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Why do car drivers always feel the need to speed? Most of these fatalities would be injuries if people would just go the speed limit.


Two things. .. the speed limit IS 25 MPH all over SF unless posted otherwise. Two is the bikes I have to deal with daily as a cab driver usually are on Market. I have them weaving in front of me all the time, as well as taking ME over at stop lights. I also have seen improvement on the red light violations with cyclists, but that would be a contibuter...

rmajora topcommenter

The safety of cyclists in San Francisco is not about fatalities, of which there are very few. It's about serious injuries, not death, which is what that UC study found that you still haven't even mentioned. That's odd for someone allegedly concerned about the safety of cyclists on city streets.

According to the MTA, there are on average less than two fatal cycling accidents a year in San Francisco:

But we don't really know how unsafe city streets are, since the UC study found that the city has been relying on police reports on cycling accidents and ignoring a lot of accidents treated at SF General Hospital. That's why the city hasn't issued a Collision Study since 2012. Ed Reiskin told me via email that the city is in fact grappling with the accident count issue. If he can admit there's a problem, why can't you---and every other so-called journalist in the city?

Most cycling fatalities are caused by head injuries

But wearing a bike helmet is controversial in San Francisco:

Can you list the "major arterial" streets in San Francisco where bike lane barriers should be installed? No, I didn't think so. The city is going to do that on Masonic Avenue in spite of a lot of neighborhood opposition. That will be an interesting test of your idea but not necessarily a successful one.

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