Cycling Makes Us Safer

Written by Boston Biker on Apr 18

You have a better chance of being struck by lightning than you do of dying in a terrorist attack.  The same can not be said about other dangers we face every day:

Comparing the CDC numbers to terrorism deaths means:

– You are 35,079 times more likely to die from heart disease than from a terrorist attack

– You are 33,842 times more likely to die from cancer than from a terrorist attack

(Keep in mind when reading this entire piece that we are consistently and substantially understating the risk of other causes of death as compared to terrorism, because we are comparing deaths from various causes within the United States against deaths from terrorism worldwide.)

Wikipedia notes that obesity is a a contributing factor in 100,000–400,000 deaths in the United States per year. That makes obesity 5,882 to times 23,528 more likely to kill you than a terrorist.

The annual number of deaths in the U.S. due to avoidable medical errors is as high as 100,000. Indeed, one of the world’s leading medical journals – Lancet – reported in 2011:

The CDC says that some 80,000 deaths each year are attributable to excessive alcohol use. So you’re4,706 times more likely to drink yourself to death than die from terrorism.

Wikipedia notes that there were 32,367 automobile accidents in 2011, which means that you are 1,904times more likely to die from a car accident than from a terrorist attack.


And yet “safety” seems to be all that anyone can think of when say, people want to go for a ride at midnight the night before a big running event.  We are willing to spend many more millions of dollars per victim to protect us against the very unlikely event of terrorism,  than we are to protect us from fatty foods, sedentary car based lifestyles, or global warming.  All of which kill hundreds of thousands of more people a year.

Many tens of thousands of people die in car crashes every year, and yet we are spending relatively little effort to prevent those tragic deaths.  We clearly do not react to other threats to our safety the way we react to terrorism.  If we did our daily lives would be pretty hectic.  When was the last time you had to get a full body pat down before getting behind the wheel of a car?  Or had to take your shoes off and walk through a metal detector before buying a pack of cigarettes?  Perhaps we need TSA agents at every McDonalds,  NSA spying on big tobacco companies, Drone strikes on car dealerships…

Contrary to what you might think, having a more people out riding and walking actually DECREASES your risk of getting run over by a careless driver.

In the hysteria that predated the launch of New York’s bike-sharing system last year, many critics cried that the bikes would make the city’s streets less safe. All those cyclists wouldn’t be wearing helmets! They’d have no insurance! Accidents would skyrocket, and with them lawsuits against the city. Fatalities would triple!

The system’s safety record quickly turned out to be less sensational. But this was as bike advocates expected. Biking — as with walking — offers a prime example of the power of crowds. As more people bike and walk, cycling and pedestrian fatalities actually decline. That’s because the more people bike and walk, the more drivers become attuned to their presence (either on sidewalks or road shoulders), and the more cities are likely to invest in the kind of infrastructure explicitly meant to protect them (all of which further encourages more cyclists and pedestrians).

This pattern is confirmed in a large biannual benchmarking report released this week by the Alliance for Biking & Walking in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The report, based on data from census travel surveys, the American Community Survey, and local data tracking cyclists and pedestrians, offers some crucial national perspective outside of cities like New York and Washington.(via)


commuter-share bike-fatalities ped-fatalities

Click for larger pictures.


While a statistical analysis might not be as emotionally charged as our responses to the suffering of victims of violent crime, the math doesn’t lie.  Your risk of dying from terrorist related activities is basically zero.  Other dangers such and being hit by a car, or having a heart attack are much higher. Cycling and walking reduce the risk of dying in traffic, or having a heart attack.

So as our city contemplates how to react on the first anniversary of a horrific and cowardly crime, we are faced with a tough choice.  What do we do?  How do we react?

I propose a radical solution…I propose we do nothing.  Absolutely nothing.

Don’t change a thing, keep on acting like we did before.  Ride your bike, go for a walk.  Do all the normal things you did before the attacks.  Why should we relinquish our freedoms because a couple madmen tried to kill us?  Why should we live in a Orwellian police state because some insane cowards tried to use bombs instead of political discourse?

If you really need to make a change, eat more vegetables  go for a bike ride, leave your car at home, and stop smoking.  All of these things will increase your safety much more than refusing to set aside a private train to a bunch of people riding their bikes on a public road.

Real people have been the real victims of  terrorist attacks.  We must never forget the vibrancy of the lives that have been lost.  But we can not allow the emotionally charged events of last years marathon bombing to obscure reality.   Far more good people are taken from us every day by less obvious, but just as real dangers.  Be it car crashes, obesity, getting cancer from pollution or climate change.  These are systematic dangers that sneak up on us slowly, but that can be dealt with in real and concrete ways.

This marathon Monday my best wishes go out to the families of everyone lost at last years attack, and everyone still struggling with recovering from injuries both mental and physical.  I urge everyone to behave the way they would have any other Marathon Monday, live your lives just as free and as proud as you did before the attacks.  No act of violence can take away what makes us great, our freedom.

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One Response to “Cycling Makes Us Safer”

  1. By DKB on Apr 19, 2014 | Reply

    These “stats” suffer from many of the usual problems numbers face when used by the press. For most cities, the numbers of fatalities of pedestrians and cyclists are so low that the idea of a “rate” seems absurd. If one more or less is killed, then the “rate” changes a great deal. And, of course, when a statistic is very near zero, a slight increase allows one to say that it has increased by hundreds of percent or that one is a million times more likely to…you name it. And BTW, “lightning” has no “e” in it.

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