The number of U.S. cycling fatalities has hit a multi-decade high with on average 19 people getting killed while riding a bike every single week. This troubling trend is in line with all traffic fatalities nationally which, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), has seen a 10.5% increase since 2020, and bicycle fatalities make up ‘just’ 2% of those traffic deaths.
But not all states are contributing to this deadly figure. A new report analyzed ten years of NHTSA data to find out which U.S. states had the lowest percentage of cyclist deaths compared to its population.
Topping this list was The Cornhusker State, Nebraska, where 15 people died in bicycle-related accidents between 2010 and the end of 2019. Relating that to the state’s population, this equates to 0.77 deaths per 100,000 people, which is the lowest rate in the nation and 67% below the national average of 2.35 deaths per 100,000 people.
Interestingly, Nebraska also ranks as the second least bike-friendly state in the nation, according to the League of American Bicyclists’ 2022 report card, which gave the state a big red F+ for its infrastructure and use of federal transportation funding.
The neighboring state, South Dakota, ranked second safest in the nation with seven cyclist deaths in that ten-year period. Given the smaller population, this equates to 0.79 bicyclist’s deaths per 100,000 people.
South Dakota also has one of the lowest percentages of bicycle-related fatalities compared to its total traffic fatalities, with bicyclist crashes contributing just 0.55% to its total traffic fatalities.
Like Nebraska, however, South Dakota did not rank well in the League of American Bicyclists’ bike-friendly ranking, coming in at the fifth least bike-friendly state in the country.
New England’s Vermont ranks third safest, with 0.96 deaths per 100,000 people, due to only six fatalities between the start of 2010 and the end of 2019, which is 59% lower than the national average.
Ranked 23rd most bike-friendly, the League of American Bicyclists rated Vermont the best in the country for funding.
The remainder of the top 10 states with the lowest bicyclist fatality rates are: West Virginia, Tennessee, Missouri, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Wyoming and Massachusetts. Despite coming in at 10th place in the bicyclist fatality rate study, the League named Massachusetts as the most bike friendly state in the U.S. in 2022.
The fatality rate study was commissioned by price comparison site, Ice Bike.
“The U.S., being primarily reliant on cars, means that other forms of transport are secondary. Throughout the study, there is a general trend of fatalities increasing year-on-year,” a spokesperson from Ice Bike said, adding that the study was meant to inform bike tourists on where to travel.
Conversely, when looking at places to perhaps avoid, Florida remains the most dangerous state for bicyclists in the country with 6.18 bicyclist deaths per 100,000 people, which is 163% higher than the national average.
Louisiana ranks as the second most dangerous state with a rate of 4.5 bicyclist deaths per 100,000 people. Arizona, Delaware, and South Carolina round out the top 5 with fatality rates of 3.69, 3.51, and 3.5 respectively.
Despite bicycle fatalities being at a multi-decade high, bicycle advocates say there’s hope in the safety in numbers effect as well as better infrastructure.
“The numbers from NHTSA show a continued and tragic upward trend in the number of people killed while biking. We don't accept these deaths as inevitable — they are preventable,” Lauren Jenkins, The League’s Communications Director, told Cycling Weekly last spring.
“At the core of the problem is a continued prioritization of speed and convenience for drivers. Designing our roads for all users and building safe bike infrastructure networks is critical to reverse this trend so that more people can choose to bike for transportation or recreation.”
The NHTSA data shows that since 2014, only one person was killed while riding a bike on a shared use path. Additionally, only 6% of bicyclist fatalities occurred in a bike lane or paved shoulder.
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