Posted by: Jack | June 2, 2008

Weighing the Risks

I’ve encountered a number of people in town who say they’d like to bike more as a means of transportation and/or recreation but have chosen not to do so because they believe it to be unsafe or at least, too scary.

It is true that there are occasional serious collisions involving bicyclists, sometimes even resulting in a fatality. But if the relevant facts are considered, biking proves to be statistically far safer than driving.

Bringing up Google News this morning, in the Portland specific column, four of ten headlines referenced the deaths of five people in vehicle-only collisions. All four occurred during just this last weekend.

The numbers of drivers and bikers has to be taken into account as over 80% of Portlanders never bike-commute. So of course the number of driver fatalities should be higher. But looking at it as a per-user ratio, driver fatalities have always far exceeded those of bikers.

A greater problem is likely the feeling of vulnerability. A vehicle collision at 25 mph will probably leave drivers with a few bruises where as a crash at the same speed on a bike is likely to put someone in a hospital. This seems like reasonable justification for staying in the car. But, a majority of drivers don’t think twice about driving 60+ mph on a two-lane highway where opposing traffic is a mere five or six feet away. It would be a rare occurrance for anyone to survive a head on collision at that speed.

So here are my suggestions:

  • If you would like to bike, do it, but be smart about it. Invest in the whole helmet, headlight, tail-light setup and find good routes.
  • If you don’t want to bike, try to keep in mind how easily your vehicle could ruin or end a biker’s life (especially if you drive an SUV or truck).
  • Never honk at a biker unless you believe it will prevent them from harm. Horns are designed to be heard through windows in loud traffic and as such, are deafening and startling to an exposed ear just a few feet away.
  • And for humanity’s sake, use your turn signal!
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Responses

  1. Also, drunken idiots are everywhere. One crashed into a group of cyclists in a race in Mexico over the weekend. Killed one and injured 10. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/24943229/


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