Another fatal crash; why we care – why you shouldn’t worry

Terrible news again today:

Motorist cited in crash that killed bicyclist in Sheboygan County

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The Sheboygan County Sheriff’s Department cited a 55-year-old man for inattentive driving after a crash that killed a bicyclist on County Highway A in the Town of Sheboygan on Wednesday.

A release from the sheriff’s department identified the victim as Allen Redensek, 55, of Sheboygan. Read more here...

 

Despite all my recent reports, fatal bike crashes are really rare in Wisconsin. If you look at the statistics, riding a bike is actually incredibly safe. and keeps getting safer. The chart below shows the bicycle crash statistics for Wisconsin. Note the downward trend in the red line that shows all bicycle crashes.

 

 

This makes the 8th person riding a bicycle killed in a crash with a motor vehicle this year. Last year at this time there were six fatalities. According to most studies, more than two million people ride bikes hundreds of thousands of miles in Wisconsin every year. As you can see by the blue line in the chart above, the number of people riding bicycles who are killed in crashes  fluctuates a bit from year to year, but the average has remained around ten.  Certainly, even one innocent person killed is cause for concern, but since the number of people riding has gone up over the years, and the number of fatal crashes has gone down, the fatal crash rate has also decreased.

Lifetime Odds of Accidental Death (Source National Safety Council)

Bicyclist 1 in 4,838    Car Occupant 1 in 242

Leading Causes of Accidental Death in the US (As compiled from data reported by the National Vital Statistics Report, Vol. 50, No. 15, September 16, 2002)

#1 Motor Vehicle    #6 Drowning     #9 Other Land Transport Accidents (including bicycling, walking, etc.)

Fatalities per Million Exposure Hours (Data compiled by Failure Analysis Associates, Inc.)

Motor vehicle travel: .47       Bicycle travel: .26

This report only counts people 16 and older, but still shows more than 2 million people ride bicycles every year in Wisconsin.

If there are only about 10 fatal crashes and 1,000 crashes annually out of the more than 2 million people who have safe and enjoyable experiences riding bicycles, why do I report about the rare instances where someone is killed? Are these reports just more fodder for fear mongers always warning people to be safe when they ride a bike?

Perhaps, but the Bike Fed staff is working to make Wisconsin an even better place to ride a bike. To us that means make it easier, more pleasant and safer. Many people still feel uncomfortable riding bicycles on roads where they have to share the road with cars. We can only make it safer if we look at the instances where crashes happen and try to implement countermeasures to reduce the chance of future crashes.

What countermeasures might we recommend to avoid future crashes at this location in Sheboygan? Given the man driving the car was cited for inattentive driving, the first thing we would suggest is more education and encouragement programs to get people to pay full attention to the act of driving when they are behind the wheel of a car. Far too many people use their time behind the wheel to multitask. They eat, text, talk on the phone, put on make-up, and I even have a friend who was ticketed for reading a book while driving! We need more education, more encouragement programs and stricter enforcement.

One of our Share and Be Aware yard signs encouraging people to obey the law that requires cars to pass bicycles by 3ft or more.

The other obvious component to a safety countermeasure in this crash involves engineering. The speed limit on Highway A is posted 55 mph, and there is no paved shoulder. Best traffic engineering practices would suggest this road should have a 5 foot shoulder at a minimum to provide a reasonably safe place for people to walk, run and ride bicycles. Since there are so few cross streets, a fully separated side path would be even better and would likely result in many more people walking and bicycling along this stretch of road.

Posted 55mph and no shoulder, this Google maps image highlights a poorly engineered road. The engineers forgot to design for people walking and riding bicycles.

 

We want the take-away from our reports to inspire you to ride legally, be aware of where crashes happen and advocate for better education, more encouragement and better bicycle facilities in your communities. So please, don’t let our reports about fatal bicycle crashes scare you or keep you from riding you bike. Many statistics show riding a bicycle to be safer than walking down stairs, taking a shower and even driving a car. When you factor in the health benefits and the reduced risk of obesogenic illnesses, your risk of dying goes down every revolution you pedal.

 

About Dave Schlabowske, Deputy Director

Dave was the first full-time staff member hired to open the Bike Fed's Milwaukee office 15 years ago. A former professional photographer and life-long Milwaukee resident, Dave likes wool, long rides, sour beer, and a good polar vortex once in a while.

5 thoughts on “Another fatal crash; why we care – why you shouldn’t worry

  1. Most stories that I read online focus on the increasing safety story or the immediate crash victim. Relatively few do both, and yours goes on to discuss corrective measures–all in a very manageable length. Just outstanding. Thanks for showing how it can be done.

  2. Looking at traffic count data, County A in that area averaged 3600 vehicles a day in 2011. It has an unsuitable rating for bicycling on the 2010 Wisconsin Bike Map.

    • Exactly Greg,

      That is why we suggest it needs a wide paved shoulder added. As a reference, 3,600 cars a day is not very many. I routinely ride on streets with 25,000 vehicles per day, sometimes 40,000. The real problem is the speed limit and lack of shoulder. That is why people in motor vehicles should be driving with extra care on that road. It might be that HWY A is the only reasonable connection for someone. I grew up in Muskego when I was in middle school and high school. I lived on a road with 45mph posted limit, similar or higher traffic count, and no paved shoulder. I had to ride my yellow and tan Murray 10 speed (I can still picture that bike) on that road to get to school or to get to friends houses. People in cars need to be more attentive if they don’t want to kill innocent people who have a right and need to use the same roads.

      That said, as I mentioned above, our job is to advocate that traffic engineers design roads with people walking and biking in mind. Until that happens, people should use bicycle suitability maps like the one you mention to try to pick routes they feel most comfortable riding on.

  3. Given the fact that the driver was cited only for inattentive driving while the bicyclist lost his life, this is a prime example of a situation that cries out for a Vulnerable Road User Law. Judges have a tendency to be overly lenient when a fatality is caused by a motorist. It’s as if opting to bike instead of drive is being treated as a form of negligence.

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