Why California leads the country in bicycle deaths

Both cyclists and motorists should be aware of the factors that have contributed to a rise in California’s bicycle traffic deaths.

Across the country, there has been a disturbing increase in the number of bicycle traffic deaths. According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, California is one of several states that lead the nation in these incidents. Between 2010 and 2012, the state saw 338 cyclists die as a result of an accident with a motor vehicle. In fact, there were 23 percent more deaths in 2012 than in 2010.

The warm, sunny weather in California is inviting for people who want to travel by foot or bike. However, both pedestrians and motorists should know how to safely share the road to prevent these tragic accidents.

The root of the problem

The GHSA conducted a survey of ten states' highway safety offices. California, it noted, is working to find solutions as to why bicycle traffic deaths have spiked. One of the reasons these numbers are rising is because more people are using bicycles to commute and exercise.

Part of the problem, experts agree, is that many people on the road lack the education regarding bicycle laws. For example, motorists may not be aware that cyclists are permitted to be on the road. Another educational hurdle is to encourage cyclists to wear helmets, which have been proven time and again to prevent devastating injuries.

Researchers also found that there is a visibility issue at play. For example, Michigan, which also has a startling number of cyclist deaths, noted in the survey that motorists who strike bicycles often claim they did not see the biker.

Preventing accidents

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention points out that people who travel by bicycle are much more likely to suffer either a crash-related injury or death than people who travel by car. The CDC suggests the following to prevent these incidents:

  • Bicyclists should wear bright clothing to increase their visibility.
  • Roads should feature bike lanes so cyclists are separated from motor vehicles.
  • Helmet laws should be enacted.

Further, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration points out that driver inattention is one possible cause of car-bicycle accidents. Motorists should avoid distracted driving behaviors and put their focus solely on the task at hand.

California laws

The California Department of Motor Vehicles reports that motorists should always use caution when passing a cyclist. The state recently enacted the Three Feet for Safety Act, which mandates that drivers leave 3 feet of space between the vehicle and bike when passing. Breaking the law can result in a fine. If a motorist breaks this law and the result is an accident that causes injury to the biker, the motorist may be fined $220. Additionally, California law permits the injured to file a lawsuit against the negligent driver.

People who have questions or concerns about California's bicycle laws should consult with an attorney.