unTerrifying Facts About Bicycling

This absolute gem of a video found its way to my inbox yesterday. It’s titled “Terrifying Facts About Bicycling” and was created by BuzzFeed, the most prolific makers of lists on the Internet today.

Please take the next 2 minutes to watch this video.

Wow. May I be the first to say WTF just happened there?

Here, maybe this will help. This is how the video was explained in the email, “We just released an interesting video that features some alarming facts about bicycling, and also explains what bicyclists can do to prevent these dangers from happening to them.”

I guess I missed the part where the video explains what cyclists can do to avoid being, well, killed by riding their bikes. Oh, use protected bike lanes (if you have access to them, otherwise, don’t bother riding, you’re more likely to die, especially if you’re in your late 40’s).

But before I get too uppity about the video, I think BuzzFeed had the right intentions. This is a PSA of sorts. Although, I’m not sure if it’s a PSA telling me not to wear a helmet or a PSA telling me to watch out for bikes. To be fair, the final message of the video is the following:

Thanks, I agree. Still I’m really left feeling a bit baffled as to the intentions behind this video. Biking Kills? Well, I certainly can’t disagree with that, but so does driving. In fact, car crashes are the leading cause of death for people who are going somewhere. Not bikes, not donkeys, but CARS!

Actually, bicycling is considered by some to be the safest form of transportation when you take into account more than just fatalities.

Not to mention, driving a car is statistically pretty dangerous. There were 726 bicyclist deaths in 2012 in the U.S. Well, there were 34,080 motor vehicle related deaths in the U.S. that same year. That’s a difference of 33,354 or 4700% more motor vehicle deaths than bicycle deaths.

The problem is, you can’t just compare bicycling deaths to motor vehicle deaths (like I just did). It’s the infamous apples and oranges problem.

For one, bicycling is not as well tracked as other forms of transportation. It’s true that when you crunch the numbers, cyclists appear to be overrepresented in terms of traffic fatalities, but we just don’t have enough data on cyclists and their exposure to risk (e.g. when they are riding, how many hours they are riding, etc.) to really quantify the risk of bicycling compared with other forms of transportation (walking is has the same problem).

Second, as we all know, there are far fewer people riding bikes than driving cars, but we still don’t really know how many people are riding. As far as the data suggests, bicycling still only accounts for about 1% of all trips in the U.S. So when you take into account our lack of knowledge on exposure to risk and the number of cyclists, that compounds the comparison problem. What we do know is that bicycle fatalities account for only 2% of a traffic fatalities.

Third, there’s that pesky fact that bicycling is exercise, so by default, you are probably extending your life simply by riding a bike.

So when I look at the data, it doesn’t seem like bicycling really is as terrifying as BuzzFeed would like to suggest. And sending a message about how terrifying bicycling is, when it turns out that it’s just not that terrifying, is not the best approach to a PSA or any kind of message about bicycling, in my humble opinion. Maybe I missed the point, but I think the overall idea was to try to help keep cyclists safe (see the image above). So what gives?

How about this, BuzzFeed, why don’t you create one of your handy-dandy lists that shows how safe, healthy, cheap, and FUN it is to ride a bicycle?

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