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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

While some jobs are extremely dangerous, and others are less so, all jobs come with the risk of workplace injuries. Sometimes the injuries arise from the dangerous nature of the job, others come from safety violations, while still others happen on jobs that do not seem particularly dangerous at first glance. Construction workers, commercial fishermen, firefighters – you would expect on-the-job injuries in those and other professions. Office workers and other more seemingly mundane occupations, not so much. But repetitive motion injuries from typing and back injuries from lifting heavy boxes of office supplies are work-related injuries, too. They are covered by workers’ compensation just as much as injuries suffered while performing more inherently dangerous jobs.

Workplace Injuries Come in Many Forms

Many people think of workplace injuries as strictly resulting from actions performed during the course of performing the duties of your job. This is largely true. However, the causes of some workplace injuries could surprise you. Among the leading causes of injuries in the workplace are:

People who work around heavy machinery in certain industries – like printing presses, conveyors, food presses, milling machines, food slicers, meat grinders, and other similar hazardous machines – are at high risk of workplace amputations. Those machines do not present the only workplace risk of amputations, either. Construction work is among the most dangerous jobs in the country, and it, too, carries the risk of on-the-job amputations. Federal government reports have referred to workplace amputations as “widespread.” They can occur not just during machinery operation, but also during set-up, cleaning, lubricating, adjusting, clearing jams, and maintenance.

While not all amputations are created equal – losing a joint on your pinkie finger is an amputation, just as is losing an arm or a leg – all amputations are traumatic injuries. Many amputations are life-altering. The federal government reports about two dozen fatal amputations and thousands of non-fatal workplace amputations every year. Federal statistics cite defective machinery and worker negligence as some of the main causes of workplace amputation injuries. Further, poorly or improperly maintained machinery, or even improperly manufactured machinery, can result in serious injuries to employees, including amputations. Inadequate training or supervision also increase the likelihood of severe accidental injuries. All of these elements – poor maintenance, insufficient training, and improper manufacturing of equipment, can factor into the amount an employee suffering an on-the-job amputation will receive in damages for a workers’ compensation claim.

Workers’ Comp Damages for Workplace Amputations Vary

No one who has ever driven a car is a stranger to distracted driving. Pretty much every single driver out there has driven while distracted at some point. Making adjustments to you climate controls, fiddling with your sound system, even eating some fast-food take-out – it is all distracted driving. Because everyone does it, and almost everyone does so without any serious consequences, many people tend to downplay the risks associated with distracted driving. Just because you have not been harmed by distracted driving, though, just means it has not happened yet. You have probably never been hit by lightning, either, but deaths and injuries from distracted driving are far more common than being hit by lightning. If you are on the road, you are at risk.

Distracted Driving is Deadly

More than 2,800 people died in the United States in 2018 in traffic accidents involving distracted drivers, and that number only reflects the number that we know about. Countless other accidents may have been caused by distracted driving but not reported as such. Another 400,000 people were injured in such accidents. Roughly 20% of those deaths were among people who were not even in a vehicle on the road – they were pedestrians, bicycle riders, or just close enough to a roadway to be killed in a traffic accident.

Say the words “truck accident” and most people immediately get a mental picture of an 18-wheeled tractor-trailer rig barreling down an interstate highway and somehow being involved in an accident worthy of a Michael Bay movie. If that is your mental image of a truck accident, you might be overlooking a common type of truck accident that is likely to strike much closer to home — accidents involving delivery vehicles, garbage trucks, and recycling trucks. COVID-19 has resulted in a lot more people ordering items online, and pretty much every neighborhood in the country has residential garbage and recycling pickup. This has led to residential streets swarming with delivery and refuse collection trucks that are in a hurry to accomplish their rounds and that are a lot larger than most passenger vehicles. The drivers of these vehicles are not just driving – they are focused on staying on schedule while they are delivering packages or picking up trash or recycling. That does not mean every driver of these trucks is distracted and dangerous, but it does not make them safer drivers, either.

Delivery Trucks are a Lot Bigger Than Your Car

Size almost always comes out on top in a traffic accident. Bigger vehicles weigh more and pack more force in a collision. It is just physics. Larger vehicles almost always emerge from accidents with smaller vehicles with less damage, fewer injuries, and fewer fatalities. Delivery vans, such as those used by Amazon and other companies, often weigh 11,000 pounds or more. A garbage truck can range from 40,000 to 64,000 pounds. Either of those vehicles has a substantial size and weight advantage over your passenger vehicle, which weighs an average of 4,000 pounds and can weigh as little as 2,400 pounds.

Just a few short years ago, ride-share services did not exist. It was less than a decade ago that the name “Uber” entered common usage, and the ride-share service became common in cities nationwide within a couple years. In the last six or seven years, ride-share services have proliferated, with Uber joined by Lyft, Sidecar, and who knows how many other services, some of them national, some regional, some serving only a few areas. No matter which service you use – and one in five Americans have used a ride-share service – the experience is largely the same. You use an app on your smartphone to ask for a ride, the car arrives quickly and gives you a ride to your destination, generally for less – often much less – than a traditional taxi cab would cost. Plus you can give the driver a bad rating if the service is not fast and courteous, an option simply not available with a taxi. What’s not to like?

Ride-Share Vehicles Get in Accidents, Too

The problem, of course, is that ride-shares, like the services offered by Uber and Lyft in Marietta and the surrounding area, are vehicles just like any others on the road. They can and do get into accidents. Ride-share drivers do not have special training, and no one really knows whether ride-share drivers get into accidents more or less frequently than the average driver on the road. A few years ago, a Chicago newspaper tried to find out, and learned instead that no government entity keeps statistics on ride-share accidents, and no ride-share service makes its accident statistics public. It is fair to assume, though, that ride-share drivers get into accidents at the same rate as pretty much every other driver on the road. So who pays if you get injured in a traffic accident while riding in an Uber, Lyft, or other rides-share service vehicle?

In late October last year, a pedestrian was killed in Marietta while crossing the intersection of South Marietta Parkway and Aviation Road. While tragic, pedestrian deaths are all too common and on the rise. In fact, a nationwide report found that in 2019, pedestrian deaths in the United States hit their highest level since 1988, with an estimated 6,590 pedestrians killed in traffic accidents. Further mirroring national trends, the Marietta pedestrian death occurred during darkness, more than two hours before sunrise. The death also highlighted national trends, as roughly one in five pedestrian deaths in the U.S. occur in intersections.

Walking Near Vehicular Traffic is a Dangerous Proposition

Let’s face it, walking along a roadway – let alone crossing one – can be a hazardous proposition. In 2017, an estimated 137,000 pedestrians were treated in emergency rooms following traffic accidents. There is no telling how many did not seek ER treatment. Given the estimated 6,590 pedestrian traffic deaths in 2019, which is up from 2017, it is reasonable to believe that traffic injuries to pedestrians that were treated in emergency rooms also increased from 2017. Based on 2017 statistics, pedestrians are 1.5 times more likely to be killed in a traffic accident, per trip, than are passenger vehicle occupants.

While some jobs appear to be extremely hazardous and others appear to be pretty safe, workplace injuries happen all the time, regardless of how dangerous the work “appears” to be. Loggers and professional fishermen work in the most dangerous jobs, but farmers, delivery drivers, garbage collectors, and septic tank workers also hold jobs that rank in the top 20 most dangerous. While those jobs are ranked by frequency of fatalities – virtually all jobs hold the potential for workplace injuries. The vast majority of workplace injuries are not fatal, and while many arise from the inherently dangerous nature of the particular job, others are far more subtle but no less debilitating.

Common Work Injuries Might Not be What You Expect

Workplace injuries happen in many different ways. Some are sudden and violent, as you might expect. Others, though, are caused by factors you might not see coming. Among the leading causes of on-the-job injuries are:

Spinal cord injuries have many causes, but at its most basic, a spinal cord injury is an injury to the spinal cord as a result of trauma leading to some level of loss of function of the spinal cord. This usually translates into a loss of body functions, as the nerves that control the body all pass through the spinal cord. Such loss of function can include anything from loss of feeling in the extremities – anything from temporary numbness in a finger or two all the way to permanent loss of feeling in an arm or a leg – all the way to paralysis, where you lose the ability to move parts of your body. Further, nerves do not heal, particularly in the case of a break in the spinal cord, meaning that spinal cord injuries are considerably more likely than other types of injuries to lead to long-term or permanent disability. These kinds of injuries can be both debilitating and expensive. The legal and health care legal costs related to spinal cord injuries are more than $29 billion each year and rising.

Traffic Accidents are the Main Cause of Spinal Cord Injuries

Traffic accidents, including passenger vehicle and motorcycle accidents, are the leading cause of spinal cord injuries each year in the United States. Traffic accidents account for almost half of all spinal cord injuries in the U.S. annually. This unwelcome distinction falls disproportionately upon motorcycle riders, who are easily the least well-protected users of the nation’s roads and highways. Even with a helmet on, a motorcycle rider is more exposed than anyone in the smallest, lightest passenger vehicle. In a collision with another vehicle, or even a single-vehicle accident, the motorcyclist almost always incurs worse injuries than the occupant of a passenger vehicle. Motorcycle riders have no steel cocoon surrounding them, nor anything to keep them from flying from their vehicles – rather, they are practically certain of being thrown from their bikes in an accident. This leaves motorcycle riders especially vulnerable to spinal cord injuries. In addition to colliding with another vehicle, they all too frequently are thrown from their bike and hit some other object, whether it be a tree, sign, telephone pole, another vehicle, or even “just” the pavement.

There is something about riding a motorcycle through the countryside, with the wind in your face, that is exhilarating. Motorcyclists say the ride feels like freedom, and they might have a point. On the other hand, freedom comes with a price, even when you are just talking about riding a motorcycle. While deaths from motorcycle accidents are declining, dropping 5% from 2017 to just under 5,000 deaths in 2018, riding a motorcycle is a highly hazardous activity, particularly compared to riding in a passenger vehicle. Riders on a motorcycle – drivers and passengers – are approximately 28 times more likely to be killed in a traffic accident than are the occupants of passenger vehicles per passenger miles driven. Only 3% of the registered motor vehicles in the U.S. – of all kinds – are motorcycles. Motorcycles account for only about .6% of vehicle miles traveled each year, and yet motorcycle riders and their passengers total about 14% of all road deaths annually.

Motorcycle Accidents are Far More Likely to End in Injuries

Federal statistics indicate that more than 80% of traffic accidents involving motorcycles lead to either the motorcycle’s driver, passenger, or both dying or being injured. In many ways, it is not a surprising statistic. There are no “minor” accidents for a motorcyclist. With only two wheels and no protective steel body around them, a traffic accident for motorcyclists virtually guarantees two things – the bike will end up sliding along the ground on its side and the motorcyclist will either be sliding along half under the bike or sliding along the ground without the bike. If the cyclist is lucky, there will not be a trip through the air before the sliding starts, and the slide will not end with a sudden impact into a stationary object. Needless to say, motorcyclists can be severely injured in an accident that leaves passenger vehicle occupants unscathed.

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