I seem to be spending a fair amount of time being frustrated with cycling stories in the media lately. I was hot off of my rant about the Jeff Jacoby opinion piece when this NPR article popped up in my social media. The article’s title clearly indicates the slant of the article: “As More Adults Pedal, Their Biking Injuries And Deaths Spike, Too.” Yet another title geared to perpetuate the myth that cycling is inherently dangerous. Or at least that was my take on it.
OK. So on the surface, you take an activity that occasionally results in some injuries, get more and more people doing it, and logically you’ll get more people getting injured. Simple, right?
Sure – until you then go and try to show how it somehow more than that.
The article does do a good job of citing several studies on both injuries counted by hospital admission records, as well deaths resulting from interactions with motor vehicles.
Hospital admissions because of bike injuries more than doubled between 1998 and 2013, doctors reported Tuesday in JAMA, the journal of the American Medical Association. And the rise was the biggest with bikers ages 45 and over.
“There are just more people riding and getting injured in that age group. It’s definitely striking,” says Dr. Benjamin Breyer, who led the study at the University of California, San Francisco.
So yea – again all I’m seeing is more people doing it, a natural increase in the number of injuries. The real question – is the rate of injuries and/or deaths per cyclists changing?
NHTS data shows us that in total miles ridden almost doubled between 1995 and 2009. Of those, the biggest single category of increase was “Social & Recreational.” The hospital injury study  shows reported injuries grew from 8,791 in 1999 to 13,046 in 2009 – less than double. That sounds like things are getting safer to me – not worse. Interestingly however, the same time frame from the same report shows hospital admissions increased from 553 in 1999 to 1,239 in 2009 – more than double. It is unclear if that is due to the seriousness of the injuries themselves, or perhaps societal changes due to health care coverage.
Looking at it from this perspective, the overall tone of the article that “cycling is getting more dangerous” just is not evident in the data. The article draws a lot of attention to the fact that there were increases in injuries and death in certain age groups, but then in the title and tone extrapolates that to all cycling. And then the summation, while technically true, definitely implies a cause for these injuries that is simply not in evidence:
But at the end of the day, reducing cycling accidents may boil down to something simpler: Making sure that bikers know the rules of the road — and that drivers know how to deal with bikers.
NPR, as an organization, definitely seems to be doing a lot more cycling-related journalism as of late. This is very likely just a response to an overall increase in cycling. This particular piece, however, I found to be a bit disappointing and not in line with their normal quality.
 Sanford T, McCulloch CE, Callcut RA, Carroll PR, Breyer BN. Bicycle Trauma Injuries and Hospital Admissions in the United States, 1998-2013. JAMA. 2015;314(9):947-949. doi:10.1001/jama.2015.8295. http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=2432153