What Causes More Accidents: Bicycles or Cars?

The relationship between bicycle riders and car drivers can be contentious. Cyclists face the danger of getting into a car accident with a fast-moving vehicle, while some drivers get annoyed by bikes impeding traffic. However, what causes more accidents: bicycles or cars?

Studies show that cyclists and car drivers are equally at fault for accidents

Cyclist riding in heavy traffic, highlighting whether bikes or cars cause mor accidents
Bike next to many cars | Richard Baker/In Pictures via Getty Images

According to studies, for accidents, bicycle riders and car drivers are equally at fault. At first glance, it might seem that cars are more to blame for car accidents. They are bigger and move at a faster speed. Also, it can be challenging for drivers to see cyclists that ride around city streets. However, the data suggests that cyclists are as likely to cause accidents as car drivers, with studies showing mixed results, as detailed by NPR

The data is quite limited, though, which makes it difficult to thoroughly analyze the issue. Most of the data is from state and city governments. For example, in a study on bike-car crashes, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety found that cyclists were at fault in 49% of accidents, while drivers were at fault in 51% The study also showed that the most common cause of accidents was failing to yield to the right of way. However, another study from Washington, D.C., showed that cyclists cause more accidents than motorists. 

The federal government has many different studies on various aspects of automotive safety, but it doesn’t have much information on bike-car crashes. NPR reached out to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and a spokesperson said, “Fault is difficult to determine.” 

Cyclists are much more likely to get in an accident than a car driver

Cyclist riding in a bike lane, highlighting whether bicycles or cars cause more accidents
Cyclist in bike lane | Zoe Ansari via Unsplash

While fault for a bike-car crash is difficult to determine and the data shows mixed results, what is clearly known is cyclists get in considerably more accidents than car drivers. As detailed by the Pedestrian & Bicycle Information Center, bike riders get in twice as many crashes as motorists. 

However, most of these bicycle accidents don’t involve cars. Only around a third of them are from collisions with vehicles. The bike crashes are due to a variety of factors. This includes poor road conditions, falls, dog attacks, inadequate bike lanes, poor lighting conditions, and breaking traffic regulations.

How many bicycle deaths and injuries are there each year?

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “nearly 1,000 bicyclists die and over 130,000 are injured in crashes that occur on roads in the United States every year.” Also, while only 1% of trips in the U.S. involve bicycles, over 2% of people that die in a crash with a motor vehicle are cyclists. 

The CDC also suggests ways to prevent bicycle injuries and deaths. This includes wearing a properly-fitted bicycle helmet every time a cyclist rides their bike, along with stronger bicycle helmet laws. Other preventative measures include wearing fluorescent or reflective clothing and using active lighting on bikes. Also, building more adequate bike lanes would improve bicycle safety and reduce bike-car crashes.

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