The COVID-19 pandemic dominated headlines in the United States in 2020. Millions of people were infected, and hundreds of thousands died. With the COVID-19 vaccine now being widely administered in the United States, rates of new COVID cases are falling. Life is slowly returning to something closer to normal.
Because of the pandemic, elements of our lives changed dramatically. One change was there was not as much traffic on the streets. People were ordered to stay home except for essential travel.
As we saw streets virtually empty of motor vehicles in cities throughout the country, we saw the number of pedestrians and bicyclists increase. Bicycle sales increased substantially as people began looking for ways to exercise while gyms closed and sports and activity centers shut down.
However, during the lockdown, we saw an increase in speeding and reckless driving accidents. With fewer cars on the road, many drivers felt safe increasing their speed and driving without the same level of caution as normal. Unfortunately, the result was not good for bicyclists.
Bicycle Accidents Increased During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Many cities throughout the United States reported increases in the number of bicycle accidents during the pandemic shutdown. The increase in bicycle accidents coincided with a steep decrease in the number of car accidents.
You would think that bicycle accidents and deaths would decrease as the number of cars on the roads decrease. However, that was not necessarily the case when you review the statistics for bicycle injuries and fatalities during the pandemic.
Bicycle Accident Statistics for 2020
Various government entities and private organizations continue to compile and analyze bicycle accident data from 2020. It could be the end of this year or the beginning of next year before the final totals are released.
Some preliminary data is available, and at least one organization has spent a great deal of time tracking bicycle accidents during the pandemic.
Outside Magazine reviewed all of the cyclist deaths from 2020. It shared its findings in January 2021. Some interesting statistics help shed light on the continued dangers of riding a bicycle, even during a pandemic shutdown.
Some of the more interesting findings by the magazine include:
- An estimated 675 cyclists were killed in accidents during 2020. The previous year’s bicycle fatalities totaled 846.
- Even though there was a decrease in the number of bicyclist deaths in 2020, traffic was reduced by 41 percent for months at a time in 2020.
- More than one-fourth of bicycle fatalities were caused by hit-and-run accidents in 2020.
- The states with the highest numbers of cyclist fatalities were California (118), Florida (90), New York (44), Texas (44 each), and Louisiana (34). Louisiana had the highest number of cyclist deaths per million residents at 7.3 fatalities per one million residents.
- Bicycle deaths were almost equal on urban roads and rural roads in 2020. About a third of the bicycle deaths occurred on these two types of roads.
- Arterial roads continue to be very dangerous for bicyclists because of the speed limits and road designs
- The warmer months from May through August saw the highest number of bicycle deaths in 2020. The highest number of cyclist deaths in 2020 was in July, with 84 fatalities
The number of bicycle incidents has been increasing for several years. Over the past ten years, bicycle incidents have increased by 37 percent. During that same period, the number of preventable nonfatal injuries decreased by 40 percent.
In 2019, 1,089 bicyclists lost their lives, with 712 cyclists dying in motor vehicle crashes. 2018 was the deadliest year for cyclists, with 857 deaths. Had it not been for the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 could have seen another record in the number of bicycle deaths and injuries.
Why Have Cyclist Deaths and Injuries Increased?
Federal, state, and local governments have worked diligently to implement new programs and safety measures for bicyclists. Many cities have installed miles of bicycle lanes and pushed to ensure that riders can feel confident and safe riding their bicycles. Bicycle advocacy groups continue to push for additional bicycle infrastructure throughout the country.
However, the number of bicycle injuries and deaths continues to increase. One reason is the increase in the number of SUVs and trucks on the road. There is a greater chance of death when a bicycle accident involves an SUV or pickup truck.
Increased speeds on roads and the increase in driver distractions are also reasons for the increase in cyclist injuries and deaths. California, Florida, and Texas had the highest number of cyclist deaths between 2012 and 2018. However, when you review the cyclist fatalities by miles traveled and per capita, Delaware is the most dangerous state for cyclists, followed by South Carolina and Florida.
As we continue to reopen and return to normal after the pandemic, it will be interesting to see how the bicycle accident statistics change. Will higher numbers of people continue to ride bicycles. If so, will that cause a sharper increase in bicycle crashes as the number of motor vehicles sharing the road with cyclists continues to increase?