NTSB sounds alarm on bicycle safety

As we enter the month of April, bicycle season is just around the corner. The National Transportation Safety Board is calling for a major policy overhaul to combat the rise in bicyclists killed in crashes with motor vehicles, according to an article in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Dec. 16, 2019, issue of Status Report.

The board called for safer roadway designs, new standards for rider visibility and measures to speed the rollout of crash avoidance systems capable of detecting bicyclists.

The agency also urged state governments to pass laws requiring bicyclists of all ages to wear helmets. Currently, most states have no bike helmet requirements, and no state requires bicycle helmets for adult riders.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s most recent census of fatal motor vehicle crashes, 854 bicyclists were killed in collisions with motor vehicles in 2018. That’s a 38% increase since the low point in 2010 and the highest number of fatalities in 30 years. Including pedestrian fatalities, which are up 46% over the same period, people outside of motor vehicles now account for a fifth of all traffic deaths.

The NTSB called on the Federal Highway Administration to include protected bike lanes and safer intersection designs in its list of proven safety countermeasures. The board also recommended implementing road diets — reducing the number of vehicle travel lanes, often to make room for bike lanes. Road diets help slow vehicles in high-speed, high-volume areas.

Apart from infrastructure changes, the NTSB noted that the requirements for reflectors and other features to make it easier for drivers to see bicycles have not been updated since 1980. It called on the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to look into revising its standards to make use of advances in materials and technologies. Cyclists should always wear high-visibility clothing when riding, whether it is daytime or night. Personally, when I ride my bicycle I always wear the high-vis yellow-green shirt and ALWAYS use a flashing red rear bicycle light on the back of my bicycle.

The board also recommended that the National Highway Traffic Safety Association work with stakeholders to promote helmet use and called on states to pass universal bicycle helmet laws. Again, personally, I can’t see any reason for a bicyclist not to wear a helmet at all times any more than I can justify anyone not wearing a seatbelt when driving or riding in a car.

Traffic safety organizations can promote all the safety features they want, but the bottom line is for bicyclists to look out for themselves by obeying traffic laws and, most importantly, be highly visible and predictable to motorists. And to you drivers, always assume that there is a biker up ahead. Look for them, expect them, and be always thinking that bikes are present when you are driving. All of us, bikers and drivers, need to pay more attention to the safety of everyone.


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