Fatal bicycle accidents are on the rise throughout the country, particularly for those not wearing helmets and those riding under the influence.

A recent report by the Governors Highway Safety Association shows that fatal bike accidents rose 16 percent between 2010 and 2012. For comparison, overall motor vehicle fatalities increased only 1 percent during that span.

Not only are bike fatalities on the rise, they continue to make up a larger and larger share of overall traffic accidents. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 726 bicyclists were killed in traffic crashes in 2012, up from 682 in 2011. In 2012, bicyclist fatalities represented 2.2 percent of all traffic fatalities, compared to 1.5 percent in 2003.

The Governors Highway Safety Association report contained several key takeaways, including:


  • Adults are biking in higher numbers than ever. Adults 20 and over represented 84 percent of bicyclist fatalities in 2012 (compared to only 21 percent of fatalities in 1975). Adult males make up the largest share of bicyclists killed in traffic accidents at 74 percent.
  • Fatal bike accidents are more common in the city. Bike accidents in the city account for 69 percent of all bicycle fatalities, compared to 50 percent in 1975. This urban concentration represents the increase in bicycle commuting, which has increased by 62 percent since 2000.
  • The fatalities are concentrated in six states. Bicycle fatalities increased in 22 of 50 states between 2010 and 2012. However, six states account for 54 percent of all fatalities: California, Florida, Illinois, New York, Michigan, and Texas.
  • Riding under the influence is a serious risk. Of all riders age 16 and older killed in traffic accidents in 2012, 28 percent had a blood alcohol concentration of .08 percent of higher (compared to 33 percent of drivers killed in traffic accidents).
  • Bicyclists are predominantly male. Of all bicyclists involved in fatal crashes in 2012, 88 percent were male.

In the report, GHSA Executive Director Jonathan Adkins stressed helmet laws as an effective countermeasure for bicycle fatalities. Currently, 21 states have helmet laws in place for younger riders, but 29 states do not and no state has a universal helmet law.

“Many states are dedicating resources to ensuring the safety of all roadway users, including bicyclists, by investing in educating bicyclists and motorists, promoting helmet use, enforcing motor vehicle laws and implementing infrastructure changes,” Adkins said.

States have also begun exploring Complete Streets policies, which take bicycles, vehicles, and pedestrians alike into account when building or improving roadway systems. State governments can also do their part by collecting information on bicycle crash patterns and locations; this information can help inform decisions about safety measures, laws, and safety resources. Especially for states where bicycle fatalities are higher, this information can help lawmakers make smarter decisions about bicycle safety and helmet legislation.