Bike riders have always had to ride with extreme caution to reduce car versus bike accidents when sharing the road. However, when the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic forced many people to work from home, increased safety for bike riders was an unexpected silver lining. In addition to reducing people driving to and from work, many drivers have also switched to more roads off the beaten path. Though the pandemic allowed reckless drivers to take advantage of empty roads, drivers electing to avoid city roads did lead to a sharp reduction in bike crashes and injuries.
Reduced car traffic during the pandemic
According to preliminary data released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in 2020, there was approximately a 13.2% drop in vehicle miles traveled. Additionally, since so many people did not have to commute to work, there was a significant decrease in city driving and an increase in driving on back roads and off-road. Even now, more than a year after the start of the pandemic, summer travel is still down between 10-15% in many areas across the country.
Less car traffic improved safety for bike riders
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) released a study showing a decrease in vehicle versus bike crashes of 28% in Arlington, Virginia, which many consider one of the most bike-friendly communities in the U.S. The IIHS study attributed this to both a shift in riding patterns and a decrease in vehicles on the road. This study also found that even though the number of cyclists rose by about 40,000 compared to 2019, the rate of injury crashes dropped from an average of 2.74 crashes per 100,000 cyclists from 2013-2019 to 1.98 in 2020.
As more people return to work, bike accidents may start to rise
With coronavirus cases starting to trend down as more people get vaccinated, many people are returning to work. Unfortunately, this also means an increase in traffic and city driving. As traffic increases, the potential for bike accidents increases. Additionally, as more businesses open up and more people venture out for dinner and shopping trips, the potential for accidents in general increases. For example, one gentleman crashed into a pizzeria (and then ordered some pizza), and there have been several other accidents involving cars crashing into restaurants this summer.
Another factor to consider is that many people have not been driving very much over the last year. This has caused many drivers to forget safe driving techniques, engaging in more reckless driving and more accidents. For example, the presence of roundabouts has been increasing in the last few years, which is good for overall car safety, as research has shown a significant reduction in car accidents due to roundabouts. However, many drivers are annoyed by roundabouts specifically because of an initial learning curve, no pun intended. It can be easy to forget the rules of roundabouts or other road rules if you have not been putting them into practice for over a year.
While most people are anxious to get back out into the world, even if it means having to change out of their pajamas, it’s important to remember car safety, particularly as it relates to sharing the road with bikes (and pedestrians). Always remember to be aware of vehicles, bikes, and pedestrians around you. Additionally, try to maintain some of these unexpected benefits from the coronavirus pandemic, like decreased bike crashes and injuries. Maybe you can also keep wearing PJs to work (if you want).