Bicycles are an excellent way for people to get a little exercise, as well as an eco-friendly transportation option when you want to get around town or commute to work. Now that summer has arrived, more and more people can be seen riding around North Carolina on their bikes and taking advantage of the long summer days. This makes it the perfect time to remind bicyclists about bicycle safety.
Bicyclists face countless dangers when traveling along busy highways and roadways with cars, trucks and other motor vehicles. To highlight these risks, we wanted to share statistics and information from the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) on the top 10 types of bicycle crashes, as well as tips on how to avoid them. While the NCDOT data we referenced is dated, we suspect the trends it shows – and the countermeasures for avoiding bike accidents – are still relevant.
Between 2006 and 2010, these 10 types of NC bicycle accidents accounted for 54 percent of the total motor vehicle versus bicycle collisions in the state:
Motorist Drives Out at a Sign-Controlled Intersection
Motorists driving out at a sign-controlled intersection is the most common cause for collision and was responsible for 449 bike accidents, or 9.3 percent of the total bicycle accidents recorded during this five-year period of time. In these accidents, the motorist allegedly came to a stop at the sign-controlled intersection (stop sign), but when he or she proceeded through the intersection it was into the path of an oncoming bicyclist. Not all of these accidents were the fault of the driver. In 58 percent of collisions, the bicyclist was found to have been riding on the wrong side of the road or against traffic and may have been at fault.
Countermeasures which could help prevent motorist drive out accidents at a sign-controlled intersection may include: roundabouts, improved lighting, further education for motorists and bicyclists alike, as well as changes to improve visibility.
Motorist Overtakes – Other or Unknown
The second most common bike accident type generally occurred when both the motorist and bicyclist were travelling in the same direction, and the motorist attempted to pass, yet ended up in a collision with a cyclist. No information is available as to the exact cause of the crash, whether it was due to an inaccurate estimation of distance, failure to yield, inability to detect or bicyclist error. This cause resulted in 372 accidents between 2006 and 2010, accounting for 7.7 percent of the total bike accidents.
Countermeasures which might help prevent accidents involving a motorist overtaking a bicyclist include: wider shoulders, separate bike lanes, sufficient sight distance based on traffic speed, improved maintenance on road shoulders and bike lanes, better lane positioning by cyclists, debris clean-up, lower speed limits, or intermittent passing lanes.
Motorist Left Turns While Going in the Opposite Direction
Next on the list of NC’s top 10 bike accidents are those involving a motorist making a left turn at an intersection or into a driveway, in front of a bicyclist and while going in the opposite direction. These accidents tend to occur when the motorists’ views are blocked by other cars, or the motorist becomes distracted to the point he or she fails to notice the bicyclist. Reportedly 305 of these accidents occurred over the five-year period, accounting for 6.3 percent of the total bike accidents.
Restricting left turns at non-intersections, roundabouts, traffic circles, and protected left-turns at signals are some of the countermeasures which could be used to minimize the risk of a collision while turning left in the opposite direction.
Bicyclist Rides Through at a Sign-Controlled Intersection
Number four on the list is due to bicyclist negligence and was responsible for causing 254 accidents, 5.2 percent of the total bike accidents. When a bicyclist rides through a sign-controlled intersection, the likelihood of that bicyclist being involved in an accident is extremely high. This may happen when a bicyclist gets distracted, has insufficient on-road experience, fails to notice or adhere to posted signs, neglects to look for cross-traffic, or misjudges the distance needed to safely cross. In some instances, bicyclists simply do not want to lose momentum by coming to a stop.
Countermeasures which could potentially put an end to these collisions include education, training, improved sight distance at intersections, roundabouts, traffic circles, installation of signals with bike detectors, and alternate bike routes.
Motorist Drives Out from a Commercial Driveway or Alley
When motorists drive out from commercial driveways or alleyways, they do not always look both ways for crossing pedestrians or bicyclists, nor do they always yield the right-of-way. In 4.8 percent, or 234, of the total bike accidents during this five-year period of time, the cause was a motorist exiting a commercial driveway or alley. The NCDOT believes issues with sight distance could be a key contributing factor.
Countermeasures which might be able to help minimize this risk include: making changes to driveway design, creating a narrower turn radii, and adding mirrors so drivers can more easily spot upcoming pedestrians, vehicles or bicyclists.
Bicyclist Makes a Left Turn While Going in the Same Direction
Number six on the list is accidents caused by a bicyclist making a left turn while going in the same direction of a motor vehicle, and often directly in front of the vehicle. At least 223 accidents, or 4.6 percent of the total, were caused when a bicyclist merged from the right lane to the left lane in front of another vehicle or attempting to turn in front of another vehicle. Speed of an upcoming vehicle, insufficient sight distance and miscalculation of distance, may all be factors in these accidents.
Countermeasures which could be used to help minimize the risk of accident and injury may include educating bicyclists and motorists on proper hand signals, side-view bicycle mirrors, bicycle lights for use at night, speed enforcement and requiring safe distance between vehicles and bicyclists.
Non-roadway accidents are number seven on the list of the most common bicycle accidents in NC. The NCDOT reports that 213 bicycle accidents, or 4.4 percent of the five-year total, occurred on non-roadways such as parking lots, private roads, public driveways and other off-road locations.
Countermeasures to prevent these accidents may include: the installation of mirrors at road ends, encouraging motorists to check before backing out of parking spots or down driveways and roads, bicycle lights, wearing bright clothing or reflective gear, and improved line-of-sight.
Motorist Right Turn While Going in the Same Direction
Same direction, motorist right turn accidents happen when a motorist attempts to turn right at an intersection or into a driveway, yet fails to observe or yield to a bicyclist traveling in the same direction. Reports show 198 accidents, or 4.1 percent of the five-year total, were caused when a motorist turned right in front of a bicyclist going the same way, and who was most often traveling on the motorist’s right side.
Designated and conspicuous bike lanes could be an extremely effective countermeasure to prevent these types of accidents. Bike boxes, advance stop bars at intersections, changes in lane design, new markings at intersection and a variety of other treatments are advised.
Motorists Trying to Overtake, Yet Misjudged Space
Motorists who tried to overtake bicyclists, yet misjudged the space needed to do so, were responsible for causing 197 accidents, or 4.1 percent of the total bicycle accidents, between 2006 and 2010. When a motorist believes he or she has enough space to make a turn in front of a bicycle, that motorist may try to make an unsafe turn which causes a serious or fatal crash.
Countermeasures which can be used to prevent accidents caused as a result of a motorist trying to overtake a bicyclist yet misjudging the space include: education, training, designated bicycle lanes, lane design changes, and intersection markings.
Motorist Overtaking an Undetected Bicyclist
Motorists caused 168 accidents, or 3.5 percent of the five-year total, by attempting to overtake an undetected bicyclist. One of the problems is that bicyclists are not always clearly visible, particularly to motorists who are paying attention and only watching out for larger vehicles. Once the sun sets, bicyclists tend to be more at risk of being involved in a serious or fatal accident. When no designated bike lines exist, bicyclists may try to travel further to the left, thus putting them in line with ongoing traffic.
Potential countermeasures might involve improved lighting, clearly marked bike lanes, the use of reflective gear and bicycle reflectors on the back of bicycles, barriers between bike lanes and regular traffic lanes, as well as encouraging distance between motorists and bicyclists.
- North Carolina Department of Transportation: Division of Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation: North Carolina Bicycle Crash Types 2006 ‐ 2010