Another reason to invest in bike infrastructure: Medical costs from crashes are soaring

Joe Mavec
CC BY 2.0 Joe Mavec's Ghost Bike/ Lloyd Alter

Here is another reason to invest in good bike infrastructure: The medical cost of dealing with squished cyclists is increasing dramatically. A new study being published in Injury Prevention determines that “2013 alone, total costs from bicycle accidents exceeded $24.4 billion.” And they are going up about $789 million every year. According to Eurekalert:

"The costs of bicycle injuries have risen steadily since 1997, with a significant increase in emergency department visits and hospital admissions, especially with older men," said first author Thomas W. Gaither, a UCSF medical student. "In the past, many bicycle accidents stemmed from non-street incidents. But now, street crashes with motor vehicles represent a greater proportion of the total costs. These crashes, which primarily occur with motor vehicles, increase the velocity of the crash impact and, as a result, the severity of the injury."

Before the commenters start up about how if cyclists followed the rules and wore helmets they wouldn’t get hit and killed as much, note that “In 2013, nearly 54 percent of the total costs of bicycle accidents were due to riders 45 and older, up from 26 percent in 1997.” Older people on bikes tend not to go through red lights and dress in all black, and they do tend to wear helmets.

The authors cite a number of reasons for the rising severity of injuries, including changes in traffic, more people commuting where they mix it up more with traffic, and changes in vehicle design, probably the change in mix from passenger car to SUV and pickup truck. And older people are much more likely to die if hit by a car than younger people.

An earlier study by some of the same authors found an increase in head injuries as a proportion of all injuries while cycling, although it is still, at 16 percent, less than torso injuries.

The authors of the study draw what I think is the appropriate conclusion:

"Many of these injuries are preventable with safer roads," said Breyer, an associate professor of urology at UCSF and chief of urology at UCSF partner hospital Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center. "We can learn lessons from the cycling environment in some European cities, where they have more riders and fewer accidents per rider. As our cities become more dense and we look for ways to promote active commuting to benefit health and environment, we need to invest long term into our bicycling infrastructure."

Over the period of the study, the total of medical costs was $237 billion. I wonder how much of that would have been saved if even a fraction had been invested in bicycle infrastructure.

Another reason to invest in bike infrastructure: Medical costs from crashes are soaring
More people are cycling, more are getting hit, and the injuries are getting more severe.

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