When looking at accident statistics for a city's or state's (or nation's or universe's) cycling population, we are really looking at two very different worlds, the kids' world and the adult world, which operate under completely different rules and circumstances. Cramming both data-sets into one huge ball of statistical mash means we won't be able to learn anything from either of them. Any number that combines both disparate populations, with their vastly different behaviors and outcomes, will be meaningless.

For example, it is a commonly held and oft-repeated belief that bicyclists' own law-breaking is the primary cause of most of their suffering on the roadways. But this is just a misapprehension caused by looking at data for the entire population of cyclists, including little kids, which shows that the majority of car-bike collisions can be blamed on the bicyclist. A closer look reveals that adults are far more likely to be riding legally than illegally at the time of their crash, while child bicyclists are much more likely to be riding illegally -- so likely, in fact, that it blows up the entire business.

It's striking how the numbers shake out in N.C. (data from the NORTH CAROLINA BICYCLE AND PEDESTRIAN CRASH DATA TOOL):

Child bicyclists (15 and under) accounted for 61% of reported Bicyclist Failed-to-Yield Midblock collisions (789 out of 1301 total).

Child bicyclists accounted for 60% of Bicyclist Failed-to-Yield Sign-controlled Intersection collisions (698 out of 1159).

Child bicyclists accounted for 24% of Bicyclist Failed-to-Yield Signalized Intersection collisions (129 out of 537).

Adding these up, child bicyclists 15 and under accounted for a massive 54% of all reported Bicyclist Failed-to-Yield collisions in North Carolina from 1997-2008 (1616 out of 2997). That's right, most of the reported incidents involving bicyclists' failure-to-yield were caused by kids 15 or younger.

In contrast, child bicyclists made up only 13% of Motorist Failed-to-Yield Midblock collisions, 15% of Motorist Failed-to-Yield Sign-Controlled Intersection collisions and 13% of Motorist Failed-to-Yield Signalized Intersection collisions. Child bicyclists were involved in 13.8% of all Motorist Failed-to-Yield collisions, but over 30% of all reported collisions.

To put it mildly, kids are hugely over-represented in bicyclist at-fault crashes. A lot of the little offenders haven't even removed the training wheels yet.

Looking only at the adult bicyclists, we see a starkly different pattern. In fact, we see the opposite pattern. The mirror image.

Considering the propensity of adult bicyclists everywhere to take liberties with the traffic laws, running lights and stop signs, we might expect to see a pattern of scofflaw bicyclists getting served their just deserts in the police reports. There is certainly some of that. However, the numbers clearly show that lawful adult bicyclists, at least in N.C., suffer substantially more from motorists' failures-to-yield than unlawful adult bicyclists suffer from their own failures-to-yield.

Looking at the cohort of bicyclists aged 25-49, we see that this group reportedly caused 209 Bicyclist Failed-to-Yield Midblock crashes from 1997-2008, but suffered 325 Motorist Failed-to-Yield Midblock wrecks over the same period. They caused 183 Failed-to-Yield wrecks at sign-controlled intersections, but suffered 451 Motorist-caused wrecks at signed intersections. They caused 191 wrecks by running stoplights -- sweet justice! -- but 121 lawful riders were creamed by light-running drivers over the same time.

Overall, the entire bicycling population caused 2997 failure-to-yield collisions, and suffered 2014 failures-to-yield at the hands of motorists -- looks fairly damning when you see it like that. Bicyclists primarily at fault, by nearly a 3-to-2 ratio. Now, just look at the adults. Bicyclists aged 25-49 caused 583 crashes after failing to yield, but were on the business end of 897 motorist failures-to-yield. More than 3-to-2 in favor of motorist at-fault. A very different perspective.

The greatest danger to the adult bicyclist is not his or her own scofflaw behavior, as one might mistakenly conclude from looking at the whole cycling population, including little kids. The greatest danger facing the adult bicyclist is being overlooked by a driver while riding lawfully.

This is a crucially important fact which should be conveyed not just to cyclists but to police and courts -- all those who become the caretakers, directly or indirectly, for injured or deceased cyclists, many of whom can't speak for themselves. Bicycling advocates, if they are to live up to that label, must work to correct the misapprehensions of the past and convey the truth, even if that truth runs counter to long-held biases and assumptions. It's much more difficult for adult cyclists to get a fair shake when they are judged largely by the actions of little kids riding out of their driveways or off the sidewalks at the ends of their blocks. But that's exactly how adult cycling is judged these days, by planners, advocates and onlookers. It's wrong, it's silly, and it needs to stop.

Stay tuned for part two, HOW TRENDS IN CHILD CYCLING SHAPE TRENDS IN BIKE-CAR COLLISION STATISTICS. Is Safety in Numbers really Safety in Age?

Please visit the BICYCLING RESEARCH PAGE for further information on bicycling accident statistics.



The legendary traffic safety manual has been revised, updated and expanded. This book contains the collective street knowledge of the world's most experienced riders, all wrapped in historical context like a spicy truth burrito. Read it and pass it on!