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Bicycle Accident Injuries: The Silent Struggle That's Plaguing America

bicycle accident injuriesA war is raging right here on American soil.

It’s not a “race war,” or a war on terror, a war on drugs, or even a war on Wall Street. Though all of these events have happened — or are currently happening — there is far greater, yet silent war that’s taking place in the streets of cities and neighborhoods across the country.

The conflict between bicyclists, motorists, and pedestrians is not only growing in intensity, but also in frequency. On a daily basis, newspapers from coast to coast are plastered with stories describing deadly bicycle accident injuries resulting from collisions with motorists and even pedestrians.

Most recently, an infamous intersection in Madison, WI has drawn attention due to the high number of fatal bicycle accident injuries that have occurred between motorists and bicyclists. Earlier this month, the Ice Age Bike Trail came under investigation after a woman sustained critical injuries when she was struck by a car in the crosswalk.

Since that time, many homeowners in the area, as well as bicyclists and pedestrians who frequent the dangerous trail, have come forward to publicly express their concerns and demand action. While Madison police are still investigating exactly what caused the tragic accident, residents feel speed may have been a contributing factor, based on similar accidents that have happened in the past.

So why are so many collisions between bicyclists, motorists, and pedestrians occurring? Can’t everyone just get along and share the roadways safely? Well, yes and no.

Often times, statistics on bicyclists and pedestrian traffic accidents can be conflicting. Overall, it seems that fatal collisions between motorists and pedestrians have plateaued, while in some areas of the country they have either increased or decreased.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 726 pedalcyclists were killed and an additional 49,000 were injured in crashes involving motorists in 2012, the last year for which national data is available. These deaths accounted for 2% of all motor vehicle fatalities in 2012, and also accounted for 2% of people injured in traffic crashes. Since 2005, the overall number of pedalcyclist fatalities decreased year after year, only to spike again in 2012. The term pedalcyclist is used to describe anyone operating a non-motorized vehicle, including a bicycle, tricycle, or even a unicycle.

Ironically, Arizona’s Department of Transportation’s (ADOT) annual Crash Facts Report indicated the state’s roadways may be getting safer for both motorists and bicyclists. Published earlier this month, the report revealed that the number of bicyclists who died in Arizona during 2014 — 28 — dropped slightly from the previous year, in which 29 perished. While a decrease is encouraging, it still appears to be a far cry from the 18 bicyclists who were killed in the state during 2012.

Overall, however, the report showed the number of accidents involving the state’s bicyclists continues to drop. There were 1,742 crashes involving bicyclists in 2014, a substantial drop from the 2,039 the year prior. In fact, it is the lowest number of bicycle-related collisions in Arizona since the ADOT first began publishing the report in 1997. Furthermore, collisions resulting in bicycle accident injuries in the state fell from 1,680 in 2013 to 1,466 in 2014, the lowest number since 2005 when 1,345 were injured.

Not only are bicycle accident injuries and fatalities tragic, they’re expensive.

According the National Safety Council, bicycle fatalities had a deep economic impact on the U.S., to the tune of $3.3 billion in 2012, the last year for which data was available. Unfortunately, officials from both the National Safety Council and the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (PBIC) say the actual economic cost could be much higher. According to the PBIC, data from numerous hospital records across the country has indicated that as little as 10% of injuries from bicycle-motorist collision are actually brought to the attention of the police.

Unsurprisingly, data from the NHTSA revealed that the overwhelming majority — nearly 70% — of bicycle-motorist collision that result in fatalities occur in urban areas, where cramped traffic conditions provide the perfect, deadly environment for these accidents to take place.

In fact, the satirical sketch-comedy series Portlandia has featured several skits highlighting the growing tension between motorists and bicyclists in metropolitan and urban areas. While the skits were, of course, mostly intended for comic relief, they showcased real life scenarios in which motorists and bicyclists struggle to compete for road space. In some cases, these disputes have lead to physical altercations.

According to the NHTSA’s most recent statistics dating back to 2013, the majority of fatal collisions — 56% — between motorists and bicyclists occur during evening rush hour at busy intersections. In addition, the average age of bicyclists involved in fatal collisions with motorists is 44, where was bicyclists between the ages of 20 to 24 have the highest injury rate. In regards to gender, 87% of bicyclists who are killed or injured in accidents involving motorists are male. Also, the NHTSA’s data revealed that alcohol was a contributing factor in nearly 34% of fatal collisions, wherein either the driver of the vehicle or the bicyclist was under the influence.

As more and more environmental and fitness-conscious Americans turn to cycling and walking as a means of exercise and transportation, concern has grown over the increasing number of car accidents involving pedestrians and bicyclists. In California — the state which has the highest rate of fatal car and bike accidents — several road safety awareness campaigns have been set in motion in the state’s metropolitan areas after years of lawsuits involving non-life threatening and fatal bicycling injuries.

So can the road become a safer place for everyone? Absolutely, and now, there’s an app for that… well, kind of.

BrakePack is a new lightweight backpack that was specifically designed for bicyclists. Born from think-tank Artefact’s emerging Startefact innovation program, the backpack is intuitively simple to operate. The user simply has to download the app to their smartphone, which will then sync to the backpack. Once synced, the backpack uses lighting signals to help motorists and pedestrians identify bicyclists.

However, one Turkish designer is taking things a step farther. Elnur Babayev created “Cyclee” a small, wearable sign projector that displays the bicyclist’s intentions on their back for motorists and pedestrians to see. Based on the bicyclist’s movements, the projector will display signals that allow motorists and pedestrians to see if the they’re turning, stopping, or even slowing down. The bright displays can even be customized by the user using the “Cyclee” app on their mobile device.

Though the invention is still considered a “concept design” and has yet to be manufactured en masse, Babayev hopes his invention wins at the Red Dot Awards, an international product design prize awarded by the Design Zentrum Nordrhein Westfalen in Essen, Germany. Should “Cyclee” win, it will be manufactured across Europe and perhaps even eventually in the States. Red Dot officials are said to already be eyeing Babayev’s clever design with curiosity and intrigue.