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Bikeshare Riders Actually Safer Than Standard Cyclists, Study Says

Perhaps helmet-less tourists on two wheels aren’t as dangerous as they seem

Results of a new survey on bikesharing seems to fly in the face of some expectations about the safety of city cyclists. According to research conducted by the Mineta Transportation Institute, the rate of accidents among bikesharing participants was lower than regular riders. The results of the peer-reviewed report, Bikesharing and Bicycle Safety, which used interviews, long-term data, and focus groups to examine ridership in three major metro areas—Washington,. D.C., Minneapolis-St. Paul, and the San Francisco Bay Area—concluded that the rates of collision and injury among bikesharing participants were lower than rates among regular bicyclists.

For instance, the vehicle-involved collision rate for Capital Bikeshare in D.C. was found to be 65% of the latest available computed U.S. rate, and, as the study notes “as there have been no fatalities on bikesharing to date in the US, the bikesharing fatality rate is currently zero (as of this writing), as compared with the US fatality rate of 21 per 100,000,000 trips.”

The researchers cited numerous reasons for the difference. According to primary author Dr. Elliot Martin, “bicycle design may be playing a role in slowing down the bikesharing bicyclist,” suggesting that the wide, bulky body of most of communal cycles influences riders to act in a safer, more conservative manner. Other safety features, such as bright paint and lighting, were also considered key factors influencing the bikesharing safety record. Riders on these bikes may simply be more cautious than regular cyclists, since they may be in a new city or neighborhood, a big contributor to an improved safety record. Helmet use, which has been documented to be lower for bikeshare participants, definitely didn’t play a role, according to the study.

Perhaps the most interesting theory advanced by the researchers is the “safety in numbers” hypothesis, that more riders on the road inspire drivers to slow down and pay attention, resulting in the greater-than-anticipated safety record. Researchers suggested that if bikesharing reached a more critical mass, it could have a even greater impact on safety, not just among those sharing bikes, but the cyclist population as a whole. They recommend additional research, since more solid research, and verifiable numbers on the safety impact of increasing bike access, gives advocates more ammunition for expansion.

Others insights from the survey:

  • Of all the experts interviewed, only one stated that helmet usage should be mandatory for bikesharing users. They said the health impacts of riding a bicycle outweighed the risks associated with a collision or head injury.
  • Because bikesharing data provide precise trip counts and good information for estimating distances, metrics like trip collision rates and miles traveled per collision can be estimated with accuracy never before possible. The tracking of these metrics ultimately may be useful for tracking bicycle safety overall