Bicycle Commuting is Down: Will it Rebound?

After years of rising steadily, the latest data indicates that the number of commuters opting to ride a bicycle to work is down slightly in recent years. While bicycle commuting rose slightly in popularity in 2016 over 2015, it declined slightly in 2017, the last year for which reliable data is available. 

Of course, all of that historical data is B.C. – Before COVID-19. It remains to be seen what the pandemic has done to the number of bicycle commuters. Millions of Americans found themselves out of work as a result of lockdowns and layoffs in response to COVID-19 as many occupations were deemed “nonessential.” Many millions more found themselves working from home. Either way, for many months now, far fewer people are commuting to work by any means of transportation at all. It remains to be seen what happens with the number of bicycle commuters when life returns to normal – whenever that might be, and whatever a post-COVID “normal” looks like. It seems likely, though, that people on bicycles, whether commuting, exercising, or just enjoying a little recreation, will be back on the roads at some point. That means that bicyclists involved in traffic accidents are likely to become a more prominent issue once again.

Riding Bicycles is Popular and Dangerous

No matter what the purpose – commuting, exercise, or recreation – bicycle riding continues to grow in popularity. While many locales are making special efforts to create bicycle paths off the roadways, and bicycle lanes on the roads, the vast majority of bicycle riding takes place on roads, leaving bicyclists vulnerable to accidents with motor vehicles. There were 857 traffic deaths nationwide among bicycle riders in 2018. In 2019, Georgia saw 21 bicyclists die in traffic accidents. There were about 467,000  bicycle-related injuries nationwide in 2015. Many of those involve children and are not necessarily traffic-related or serious injuries. In 2018 there were 306,133 emergency room visits for injuries stemming from bicycle accidents. Of course, not all injuries result in a trip to the emergency room, so the numbers do not necessarily mean that there was a dramatic decline in bicycle accident injuries over just three years.

Bicycle injuries often are more serious than those suffered by passengers in cars. Cyclists have far less protection than occupants of cars. One third of non-fatal injuries to bicycle riders in traffic accidents are head injuries, and most of the 80,000 bicycle accident-related head injuries that result in a trip to the emergency room are brain injuries.

Bicyclists Have the Same Rights and Obligations as Car Drivers

No matter what the reason for a bicyclist being on the road, the rules are the same as they are for motor vehicles – in essence, a bicycle is legally equivalent to a car or truck on the roads. Consequently, liability for a traffic accident involving a bicycle is governed by the same principles as a traffic accident between motor vehicles. The driver who is negligent bears the liability for the injuries and other damages incurred by the non-negligent driver.

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