As every seasoned cyclist knows, riding in traffic can be a heart-pounding ordeal – and not in a good way. Despite frequent public safety campaigns, far too many drivers still aren't accustomed to sharing the road. Inattention is rampant. "I just didn't see them!" is a common refrain in the aftermath of an accident.
When it comes to accident statistics, there's good news and there's bad. The good: Bicycle accidents have decreased significantly in recent years. The bad: Fatalities have drastically increased.
Although the total number of cycling accidents is down, fatal accidents have risen nearly 40 percent in the last decade. The same is true for fatal pedestrian accidents.
Why so many deaths?
Experts have pondered various reasons for the increase, from a rise in new (and inexperienced) cyclists to lack of infrastructure to increased driver distractions. Cellphone use behind the wheel is certainly a contributing factor.
Another surprising contributor? The composition of vehicles on the road. SUVs have skyrocketed in popularity over the last decade. Increased fuel efficiency and high profit margins make them an attractive option for dealers and consumers alike. Last year alone, around 70 percent of new vehicle sales were SUVs.
But the prevalence of these bigger, heavier vehicles on the road means less chance of survival during a collision – especially when a pedestrian or bicycle is on the receiving end of all that force.
What about advances in safety technology?
Collision avoidance systems, blind-spot monitors, backup cameras and the like are intended to make cars safer. But they also create a false sense of security for overconfident drivers. Speeding and distractions – two of the leading causes of fatal accidents, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration – remain temptations for irresponsible drivers. Overreliance on safety features can backfire, with life-altering consequences for those who happen to be in their path.
And all too often, it's cyclists who pay the price.