Accident Risk: Cyclists in Danger

Too many people still die in accidents involving two-wheeled vehicles. In some parts of the world, the number continues to rise. There is an urgent need for action. The DEKRA Road Safety Report 2020 provides facts and figures on all aspects of accidents involving motorcycles, bicycles etc.

Photo: Shutterstock/connel

The number of fatalities on bicycles has always been much higher in the EU than in the US. Photo: Shutterstock/connel

Whenever any kind of two-wheeled vehicle is involved in an accident, the consequences for the users are often devastating. This is because, unlike cars, vans, and trucks, such vehicles do not have a crumple zone. Even if a car – the most common second party in accidents – is driving comparatively slowly, a collision will often result in very severe injury. After colliding against the hard shell of the vehicle, which is usually enough to cause injury on its own, a cyclist’s body is still at risk of further injury when it falls to the ground.

Around 69,000 cyclists worldwide lost their lives in road accidents in 2017. Photo: Imago - Independent Photo Agency

Around 69,000 cyclists worldwide lost their lives in road accidents in 2017. Photo: Imago – Independent Photo Agency

Likewise, in collisions that involve a car and a motorcyclist, the force of the impact acts directly upon the motorcyclist. Due to the significant difference in mass, users of two-wheeled vehicles are also subject to significant deceleration or acceleration. In addition to this, motorcycles generally reach the limits of their stability in terms of their driving dynamics much faster than a vehicle like a car.

International accident figures

This “mismatch” between riders of two-wheeled vehicles and other users of motorized vehicles is reflected markedly in the international accident statistics, alongside many other factors. According to data published by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington in Seattle, approximately 225,000 motorcyclists and around 69,000 cyclists worldwide lost their lives in road accidents in 2017. Combined, these figures account for around a quarter of all the 1.25 million road fatalities. In terms of both motorcyclists and cyclists, Asia recorded the highest number of deaths by far: around 166,000 and 51,500 respectively. These numbers have been on an upward trend for years, especially for cyclists – though thankfully the number of motorcyclist deaths has been dropping again since 2012 (Figures 1 and 2). In terms of percentages, the biggest increase globally has been among cyclists aged between 50 and 69. The number of people in this demographic who were killed on the road rose from 9,400 to 23,900 between the years 1990 and 2017, increasing almost two and a half times. The figures for motorcyclists are similar.

Asia has the highest figures in the world for cyclists and motorcyclists killed on the road.

The extent of the risk of being killed while riding a two-wheeled vehicle – motorized or otherwise – in Asia becomes even clearer when evaluated in terms of deaths per 100,000 inhabitants (Figures 3 and 4). Almost four motorcyclists and 1.14 cyclists per 100,000 inhabitants are killed on the roads in Asia – two figures that are far above the global average (2.95 and 0.9 respectively).

Figure 1: Motorcyclist Deaths. Illustration: ETM Figure 2: Cyclist Deaths. Illustration: ETM Figure 3: Motorcyclist Deaths by Population. Illustration: ETM Figure 4: Cyclist Deaths by Population. Illustration: ETM Figure 5: Deaths in Road Accidents in the USA. Illustration: ETM Figure 6: Deaths in Road Accidents in the EU. Illustration: ETM Figure 13: Cyclists Deaths. Illustration: ETM Figure 14: Cyclists Deaths by Population. Illustration: ETM Figure 15: Motocyclists and Cyclists Involved in Accidents in 2019. Illustration: ETM Figure 16: Motocyclist and Cyclist Deaths by Age Group 2019. Illustration: ETM

Comparing the USA and the EU

In terms of fatalities among road users, a comparison between trends in the USA and the EU makes for interesting reading. Generally speaking, the number of cyclists killed on the road in the USA remains at the same level as 30 years ago while there has been a significant change in the number of people killed in road accidents as a whole. This applies especially to motorcyclists, for whom there was a dramatic rise in the number of fatal road accidents in the early 2000s (Figure 5). At first glance, the situation in the EU seems to be positive. A small rise in 2008 aside, the number of deaths among both road users in general and specifically for cyclists and users of two-wheeled motor vehicles have been decreasing constantly for years. Since 2013, however, the number of deaths in all three classes has stagnated (Figure 6).

 

Significantly More Cyclists Killed on the Road in the EU than in the USA

Accidents involving a car and a cyclist often occur at junctions. Photo: Imago - Sven Sebastian Sajak

Accidents involving a car and a cyclist often occur at junctions. Photo: Imago – Sven Sebastian Sajak

The number of road users killed while riding a bicycle has always been higher in the EU than in the USA. The main reason for this is that the use of bicycles as a means of transport has thus far been much less widespread in the USA. As with the overall figures, there has been a constant decrease in the number of cyclists who have suffered a fatal accident in the EU in terms of the long-term statistics. However, this figure has remained stagnant at almost 2,100 since as far back as 2010. Estimates also place the number of cyclists killed on the road in 2017 at 2,100. Germany accounts for the largest number of the EU’s bicycle fatalities by some distance, followed by Italy, Poland, Romania, France, and the Netherlands. The number of cyclists killed in road accidents in the USA was around 800 in 2017, with the trend rising slightly. This figure has remained almost constant since 2000 (Figure 13). Accordingly, the cyclist fatality rate for 2000 was 2.4 per million inhabitants. This level will be reached again in 2017. In the EU, the rate fell from 7.5 in 2000 to 4.1 in 2017 (Figure 14).

Accident Statistics in Germany

With regard to accident statistics for two-wheeled vehicles in Germany (Figure 15), a welcome downward trend can be seen, at least when comparing 2019 to 2018. In total, 129,207 users of two-wheeled vehicles were involved in accidents on German roads – 4.5 percent fewer than in 2018, when the number was 135,103. The number of motorcyclists involved in accidents fell almost nine percent from 31,419 to 27,927, with the number of fatalities dropping from 619 to 542. A total of 13,925 users of two-wheeled motor vehicles with an insurance plate were involved in road accidents in 2019. One year earlier, the figure was 14,792. 63 users of two-wheeled motor vehicles with insurance plates lost their lives – 15 fewer than in 2018. The number of cyclists involved in road accidents in 2019 fell around one percent compared to the previous year, from 88,880 to 87,342. The number of deaths in this group remained the same, at 445. 118 of these cases were pedelec users, compared to only 89 in 2018. This means that the number of pedelec users who died on German roads increased by a whopping 32 percent.

The consequences of accidents are more severe for users of motorcycles with a license plate than for occupants of cars. Photo: Imago - Independent Photo Agency

The consequences of accidents are more severe for users of motorcycles with a license plate than for occupants of cars. Photo: Imago – Independent Photo Agency

As the German Federal Statistical Office wrote in its 2019 annual report on motorcycle and bicycle road accidents, the comparative risk of being involved in a road accident is higher for users of motorcycles than of other motor vehicles. In 2019, six motorcyclists per 1,000 officially registered motorcycles with license plates were involved in an accident, as opposed to five car users per 1,000 cars. The risk of being killed in a road accident was also significantly higher for users of motorcycles with license plates than for occupants of cars, at 12 fatalities per 100,000 motorcycles compared to three fatalities per 100,000 cars. These figures underline the fact that motorcycles come with a higher overall risk of injury than cars, and also that the consequences of accidents are more severe for users of motorcycles with a license plate than for occupants of cars. In 2019, the comparative risk of being killed while riding a motorcycle that requires a license plate was actually more than four times higher than for occupants of cars – despite the fact that the mileage covered by motorcyclists was much lower.

Motorcyclists are also at a much higher risk when newly licensed: 35.4 percent of motorcycle users involved in an accident and over 18 percent of those killed in an accident in 2019 were between 15 and 24 years old. The reason for this is obvious: Young motorcyclists often have little experience on the road, and also tend not to know their own limits. Aside from young people, the elderly were the most likely to suffer an accident on a light motorcycle: 28.6 percent of fatally injured users of light motorcycles were aged 65 or older. This figure was even higher among cyclists, with this age group ­accounting for more than half of all fatalities (Figure 16).

You can find the complete DEKRA Road Safety Report 2020 here.

Related articles
 
Magazine Topics
 
Newsletter