According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 51,000 pedal cyclists were injured and another 639 were killed on our nation's roadways in 2009. In North Carolina, 16 cyclists died on state roads out of the 1,314 total traffic fatalities across the state. While these numbers represent barely 1 percent of all highway-related human losses, these deaths were needless and preventable.
While North Carolina does not rank as the most dangerous state for bicyclists - Florida has that distinction - it has not earned the reputation of being a bicyclist-friendly state. In 2011, the Tar Heel State was ranked 38 out of 50 states by the League of American Bicyclists, which considers factors such as legislation, education, bike infrastructure, and public funding in tabulating its results. Still, cities such as Cary and Greensboro are ranked in the nation's top 50 for their support of vibrant and diverse bike cultures.
In North Carolina, bicycles are granted the same legal status as motor vehicles. With cyclists having the same full rights and responsibilities as car operators, pedal cyclists are expected to obey all traffic laws, including those regarding distraction, cellphones and impairments. While a few jurisdictions require all cyclists to wear helmets, the state law only requires children under 16 to wear helmets. Cyclists are required to use safety seats or trailers for passengers under 40 inches or 40 pounds, and equip bikes with lamps for night riding.
The federal government reports that two bicycle-related fatalities occur each day, and according to the National Safety Council, these cyclist-related injuries and deaths cost the public about $4 billion dollars per year. While North Carolina may consider bicycles the same as other motor vehicles, the reality is that bicyclists are at a greater risk in crashes and that the cyclist and passengers can suffer more than simple bumps and bruises in an accident.
Broken bones, concussions, traumatic brain injury, abrasions and even death are possible for a cyclist or passenger who is hit or run over by a motor vehicle. Injuries can cause lasting physical and psychological damage and result in high medical costs, time lost from work or school and permanent disability.
Bicycle safety is a public safety priority and the state of North Carolina continues to make roadway improvements to accommodate this special class of vehicle. As many communities develop cycle cultures, awareness of risks for bicycles and their passengers will be crucial in reducing injuries and fatalities.