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Cyclist deaths reach 30-year high

Cities across this country and Massachusetts have recognized the health and ecological benefits of bicycling and taken measures, such as bicycling lanes, to respond to and encourage their popularity. But, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), bicycling also poses a risk of serious personal injury because bicyclist deaths in traffic accidents reached a 30-year high in 2018.

Late last month, the NHTSA issued a report on fatal motor vehicle crashes from last year. It found that cyclist fatalities increased by 6.3 percent from 2017 to 2018. The number of these deaths reached 857, which was the highest since 1990 when 859 bicyclist deaths were reported.

Overall, the NHTSA said that vehicle occupant deaths dropped by 2.4 percent from 2017 to 2018. Large truck occupants had a small 0.8 percent increase.

In addition to bicyclist deaths, however, fatalities for other vehicle nonoccupants had a significant increase. Pedestrians and cyclists are comprising a greater percentage of overall fatalities. These grew from 14 percent of total traffic deaths in 2009 to 20 percent in 2018.

According to the NHTSA, male cyclist deaths grew by 3.2 percent and female cyclist fatalities rose by 29.2 percent between 2017 and 2018. Bicyclist deaths at night increased by 9.2 percent during that period. Bicyclists fatalities attributed to drunk drivers also rose by 9.2 percent.

Since 2009, bicyclist deaths in urban areas rose by a substantial 48 percent. Deaths in rural areas fell by 8.9 percent.

The NHTSA attributed improvements to devices such as air bags and electronic stability control and public education on seat belt use as contributing to the drop in overall traffic fatalities. But, these improvements are unavailable to pedestrians and bicyclists and measures, such as improved bicycle infrastructure and taking measures against impaired drivers to protect nonoccupants, are needed.

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