There are many bike riders in New Jersey who have chosen not to ride during the COVID19 pandemic for fear of crashing and thereby tying up precious emergency response resources. A review of the state’s official bike crash statistics shows that these fears are unfounded.
In 2019, the state had 1673 reported crashes that involved a bike rider. Of those reported crashes, 12 resulted in fatalities. That is 0.72% of all reported bike crashes- less than 1%. There were 101 serious injuries, or 6%. Combined, fatalities and serious crashes resulted in just 7% of all reported bike crashes in 2019.
There were 288 reported bike crashes that had no injuries – 17%.
The remaining 76% of the reported crashes had minor injuries or suspected minor injuries. When added together, 93% of the reported crashes had either no injuries or minor injuries. In other words, 93% of reported crashes did not occupy medical resources that otherwise would have been used to treat COVID19 patients. Note that many crashes go unreported when there are no or minor injuries, which means that this number is likely understated.
As to type of crash, 59% of the reported crashes involved another bike rider. Only 35% involved a motor vehicle. The remaining 6% included riding into stationary objects such as parked cars, crashes with pedestrians, or the cause cannot otherwise be determined.
These numbers show that we are not at all tying up medical resources when we ride. Further, with fewer cars on the road, that 35% diminishes substantially. Additionally, as we are riding solo in order to achieve social distancing, 59% of the crashes drop to virtually nothing, leaving us with the 6% crash category- meaning that 94% of the causes of bike crashes have all but disappeared when riding solo in this time of COVID19 isolation.
Years 2017 and 2018 show similar stats.
Granted, speeding on local roadways has become a concern in some areas; however, not all neighborhood streets are conducive to speeding, as their design prohibits it.
As the state does not capture actual ridership – the number of rides taken per year – it is difficult to estimate the chances of having a crash while riding, but we can make an educated guess. The state has running through it Route 9, which sees approximately 345,000 riders each year, according to data provided by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Add to that the handful of clubs who regularly run rides, and we are approaching about 400,000 separate “rides.” This number doesn’t even begin to include the multitude of solo recreational riders, bike events, those who commute by bike to work or to reach transit, and those who otherwise use a bike as transportation because they so choose or, due to economics, because the choice is made for them. As that number is virtually impossible to capture, let’s use the 400,000 rides each year number. At that number, the rate or frequency of a bike crash in 2019, when there were 1,673 crashes, was 0.42%, or far less than 1%. The odds drop even lower under current COVID19 conditions as described above- where there are fewer cars and social distancing dictates solo riding.
Riders span the spectrum, from very highly skilled, experienced and talented riders to those who are beginners and may be in various developmental stages. While beginner riders may generally feel nervous about riding in general, riders at the advanced end of the spectrum are often able to get themselves out of “sticky” situations or avoid them entirely.
Therefore, whether or not to ride during these times is a decision that each person should make for themselves based on whether or not they believe their skills are solid enough to ride safely, under the current circumstances. This is not at all new; anyone riding should make that assessment each time they ride. Riders should always ride within their abilities. Riding is a personal decision, and no one riding should be chastised by others because they are riding during the COVID19 crisis.
If you find yourself nervous about your skills now or at any time, work on them. Practice makes perfect, and now that solo riding is the norm, it’s an excellent time to work on your skills. Also, sign up for a training program such as “RideSmart” offered by BTCNJ or classes offered by Bike & Walk Montclair and others.
The basics apply now as they always have: be visible, be predictable, ride with traffic, ride as far to the right as is practicable (meaning safe and reasonable), use hand signals even when riding solo (as they are intended for other road users as well), wear a helmet, and be courteous.
If you want to help eliminate all crashes, sign up at the NJBWC and help us achieve some of our current goals, such as passage of the 4-foot safe passing bill and our upcoming work on rumble strip design in New Jersey. We can always use your input and your willingness to understand the issues related to safer roadways.
In short, choose to ride or not to ride under COVID19 based on your confidence in riding solo and your ability to social-distance yourself from others, not because you’re concerned that you will crash and thereby use up medical resources; the odds are strongly in your favor that you will have a safe ride.
Cyndi Steiner, Acting Executive Director
Arnold “Andy” Anderson, Coordinator, Community Traffic Safety Program, Vehicular Homicide Detective (Ret’d)