Bicycle Crash Reporting Needs Improvement, Study Suggests

Bicycling has become an incredibly popular form of transportation and recreation across the country, but particularly here in Florida, where the weather permits riders to enjoy the activity year-round. In fact, between 2000 and 2013, there was a 62 percent spike in ridership in the U.S.
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However, this has inevitably led to an increase in bicycle accidents, particularly because our streets weren’t designed to safely accommodate cyclists and because most drivers still don’t look twice for them.

A recent study has now identified another issue: The outdated way in which police departments around the country are reporting these crashes is failing to provide crucial information that could help make our streets safer for cyclists.

Researchers with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health say the data could be easily collected by simply changing the templates most departments use to record crash data. Currently, very few of those templates contain much room for details of crashes involving bicycles.

The study, published in the journal Injury Prevention, was funded by auto manufacturer Nissan. Authors of the study say they were looking for information about how to make cars safer for cyclists. In recent years, a number of design modifications on motor vehicles have focused on comfort and safety of those inside the vehicle. Things like smaller rear windows, larger head rests and roll bars have become standard within the auto industry. But those features have actually made cyclists less safe.

Analysts examined information gleaned from some 300 accidents between motor vehicles and bicycles in New York City that resulted in serious injury or death. For each case, they gathered all coinciding written reports of the crashes in order to figure out what information was missing that, if provided, might aid further safety analysis.

Among those missing elements were the kinds of “bicycle environments.” For example, did the crash occur where there was a bike lane or no bike lane? Were there sharrows? What about a cycle track?

Another component researchers could not find was potential impact points with the motor vehicle. For example, was the bicycle doored? Did it hit the front passenger side? The rear passenger side? Head-on? Similarly, researchers concluded it would be helpful if officers could indicate the impact point on the bicycle.

Finally, researchers indicated the need for identification of bicycle-crash-scene patterns.

Here’s why that kind of information matters: Past research on bicycle crashes indicates cycle tracks, also called protected bike lanes, reduce the risk of a bicycle-car crash by a significant margin. But because there is so little ongoing information-gathering of these features, there is still a large lack of understanding of the benefits.

What’s more, if we better understand the mechanics of what causes bicycle accidents, it could lead to additional safety features that could protect cyclists. For example, signal lights could notify a bicyclist approaching a parked car that the passenger or driver has just disengaged the seat belt, and thus may be preparing to open the door.

By providing police with drop-down menu options when filling out reports electronically, the process of more complete data collection could be done with minimal effort, researchers say.

Call Fort Lauderdale Injury Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.

Additional Resources:
How Better Data on Bike Crashes Could Lead to Safer Streets for All, April 2, 2015, By Sarah Goodyear, The Atlantic
More Blog Entries:
Florida Bicyclist Wins Right to Ride in Full Lane, Feb. 12, 2015, Fort Lauderdale Bicycle Injury Lawyer Blog