unTerrifying Facts About Bicycling

This absolute gem of a video found its way to my inbox yesterday. It’s titled “Terrifying Facts About Bicycling” and was created by BuzzFeed, the most prolific makers of lists on the Internet today.

Please take the next 2 minutes to watch this video.

Wow. May I be the first to say WTF just happened there?

Here, maybe this will help. This is how the video was explained in the email, “We just released an interesting video that features some alarming facts about bicycling, and also explains what bicyclists can do to prevent these dangers from happening to them.”

I guess I missed the part where the video explains what cyclists can do to avoid being, well, killed by riding their bikes. Oh, use protected bike lanes (if you have access to them, otherwise, don’t bother riding, you’re more likely to die, especially if you’re in your late 40’s).

But before I get too uppity about the video, I think BuzzFeed had the right intentions. This is a PSA of sorts. Although, I’m not sure if it’s a PSA telling me not to wear a helmet or a PSA telling me to watch out for bikes. To be fair, the final message of the video is the following:

Thanks, I agree. Still I’m really left feeling a bit baffled as to the intentions behind this video. Biking Kills? Well, I certainly can’t disagree with that, but so does driving. In fact, car crashes are the leading cause of death for people who are going somewhere. Not bikes, not donkeys, but CARS!

Actually, bicycling is considered by some to be the safest form of transportation when you take into account more than just fatalities.

Not to mention, driving a car is statistically pretty dangerous. There were 726 bicyclist deaths in 2012 in the U.S. Well, there were 34,080 motor vehicle related deaths in the U.S. that same year. That’s a difference of 33,354 or 4700% more motor vehicle deaths than bicycle deaths.

The problem is, you can’t just compare bicycling deaths to motor vehicle deaths (like I just did). It’s the infamous apples and oranges problem.

For one, bicycling is not as well tracked as other forms of transportation. It’s true that when you crunch the numbers, cyclists appear to be overrepresented in terms of traffic fatalities, but we just don’t have enough data on cyclists and their exposure to risk (e.g. when they are riding, how many hours they are riding, etc.) to really quantify the risk of bicycling compared with other forms of transportation (walking is has the same problem).

Second, as we all know, there are far fewer people riding bikes than driving cars, but we still don’t really know how many people are riding. As far as the data suggests, bicycling still only accounts for about 1% of all trips in the U.S. So when you take into account our lack of knowledge on exposure to risk and the number of cyclists, that compounds the comparison problem. What we do know is that bicycle fatalities account for only 2% of a traffic fatalities.

Third, there’s that pesky fact that bicycling is exercise, so by default, you are probably extending your life simply by riding a bike.

So when I look at the data, it doesn’t seem like bicycling really is as terrifying as BuzzFeed would like to suggest. And sending a message about how terrifying bicycling is, when it turns out that it’s just not that terrifying, is not the best approach to a PSA or any kind of message about bicycling, in my humble opinion. Maybe I missed the point, but I think the overall idea was to try to help keep cyclists safe (see the image above). So what gives?

How about this, BuzzFeed, why don’t you create one of your handy-dandy lists that shows how safe, healthy, cheap, and FUN it is to ride a bicycle?

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12 thoughts on “unTerrifying Facts About Bicycling”

  1. listenermark says:

    Passive-aggressive much?

    gen-x dude

  2. Matt says:

    A food for thought – remember that there are quite a few cyclists that were DUI drivers. They are riding bicycles now and could be intoxicated. They are more likely, due to their balance control loss while riding after buzz to crash and die as result.

  3. BluesCat says:

    Really? No … Really?

    “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” – Attributed to Mark Twain

    Ya want some “Death Statistics”? I got yer numbers right here:

    30,000 – Number of people who die every year from OBESITY
    10,000 – Number of people killed by LIGHTNING annually
    6,000 – How many people who die from TEXTING every year
    2,900 – Yearly number of human deaths from HIPPOS
    845 – VOLCANOES kill this number of people annually

    And, finally, my personal favorite:

    600 – Number of people who die yearly from AUTOEROTIC ASPHYXIATION

    I’ll take my chances on my bike, thank you.

  4. ElGato says:

    30000 dying Form obesity?
    Where, in Luxemburg? I would consider that number WAY higher in any “developed” country over 1M inhabitants…

    Texting is on the rise – just the other day I almost ran someone over who only had eyes for his phone…

  5. Joel says:

    I am finishing my third full year of multi-mode bicycle commuting (year round).

    I feel very good physically and I think that my daily 60 minutes total riding is a big contributor. I leisurely ride at about 12mph and purposely slow down some days just to absorb the sunshine and fresh air. Some days it is rain and fresh air. My enjoyment shows as my wife notices the few days I must drive instead of ride. She never questions me about, “Are you riding your bike tomorrow?” except during periods of heavy snow or ice. She assumes that my default action is riding my bicycle instead of driving.

    I have had one close call and one almost close call in three years of commuting on my bicycle. When I drive to work (no bus at all), I think I can have almost three close calls everyday.

    I bike and drive defensively. I cannot control all of the variables but I try to minimize the risks. Lights (multiple), reflectors (extra), reflector vest, and yes, a helmet.

    Visibility is the key. A driver cannot avoid what they do not see. I ride with bright lights on in the day time because a bike tends to disappear as it enters shady tree covered sections. High quality blinking lights REALLY make a difference (just like motorcycles).

    It is not a sign of capitulation to cars that I use safety gear. I am just doing what I can do to minimize the risks.

    I like to ride my bike.


  6. BluesCat says:

    I think you’re correct, ElGato: I believe the source I used dropped a zero; that should read 300,000.

  7. Ted Johnson says:

    Great piece, Melanie!

    The problem with absolute numbers is that they fly over the heads of so many people. When Buzzfeed presents a factoid such as…


    …most people are going to notice “BICYCLIST DEATHS,” especially if the word “DEATHS” is in a brighter color than the rest of the text.

    The best way of tracking the risk of any activity is per hour — and then factor in the other pros and cons such as health. If 2,900 people die from hippos each year, imagine what the death rate is per hour of exposure to hippos. I can’t imagine that the health benefits of running from hippos outweigh the risks of exposure to hippos. (Hippos, by the way, can run faster than all but the fastest human sprinters. Sometime let me tell you my hippo story from Tanzania.)

    As I say all the goddamn time, stairs are more dangerous than bikes — per hour of exposure. I want to see Buzzfeed’s insane, mind-blowing videos on hippos and stairs. I’m waiting.

  8. Exactly, Ted! You know, I seem to remember reading a statistic once that more people are killed by mules each year in the Grand Canyon than helicopter crashes. Though I didn’t have the time or patience to validate said statistic… It’s all about how you present the data.

  9. BluesCat says:

    Hey, Ted, now here’s a thought: on a bike you could probably outrun that hippo!

  10. I wouldn’t be so sure, BluesCat. Maybe if he had a running start and certainly over a distance, but according to the great Wikipedia, “Hippos have been clocked at 30 km/h (19 mph) over short distances. The hippopotamus is one of the most aggressive and unpredictable creatures in the world and, as such, ranks among the most dangerous animals in Africa.”

  11. If the video was meant to scare then it did a good job. I think bluescat put it much better into perspective. Sure there is a chance you can die biking, and there is also a chance you can die just living. Being fat seems like a much greater chance of dieing than riding my bike. I will choose to bike thanks.

  12. These numbers about tragic events with cyclists are really alarming, thank you for sharing, here in the country where I live this also happens frequently.

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