• Bikes and Small Cars

    by  • June 28, 2011 • Safety • 4 Comments

    Crazy Mini-Cooper Drivers
    Pucher and Dijkstra have calculated that the bicyclist fatality rate in the United States was about 10 times (1000%) the fatality rate for the occupants of cars and small trucks per mile (or kilometer) traveled (1995). We summarized their work in a recent post (where we delved into the statistics a little more deeply).

    But why should this be? After the death of a bicyclist, the comments usually come fast and furious that the bicyclist must somehow have been at fault…and if the news story happened to mention that the victim wasn’t wearing a helmet: forget about it! For many people that’s the entire story. Any bicyclist not wearing a helmet is, by definition, crazy and reckless. There is no need for any additional thinking! (Phew.)But if bicyclists, as a class, are responsible (because of their crazy and reckless bicycling ways) for their own disproportionate tendency to die in traffic, then what are we to make of the statistics that the drivers of the smallest cars are about 3 times (300%) as likely to die in a crash as the drivers of the largest cars? Well, we have a series of plausible explanations that we can analogize from conveniently. One very likely explanation: drivers of small cars are 300% more likely to drive the wrong way. No? OK: drivers of small cars drive defensively and therefore are less visible than larger cars. (Small cars need to learn how to “take the lane”.) That’s probably true, but, if it isn’t, this surely is: the drivers of small cars are 300% more likely to drive under the influence of alcohol. I’ve known lots of mini-cooper drivers and they have all had drinking problems, with one or two exceptions. And not only do they drink, the drivers of small cars are also lazy! I don’t have any doubt that they are 300% more likely to drive without the appropriate personal protective equipment.

    What do you think?


    • Traffic Safety Facts : Bicyclists and Other Cyclists


    James Wilson is the executive director of Bike Delaware. He is a member of the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals (by whom he was named the 2014 Professional of the Year, Nonprofit Sector), the Institute of Transportation Engineers and the Delaware Bicycle Council. He serves on the board of directors of Delaware Greenways and the Delaware Valley Smart Growth Alliance and as the co-chair of the policy committee of the Advisory Council on Walkability and Pedestrian Awareness. He holds engineering degrees from Yale University and the University of Texas at Austin and is the only registered lobbyist for cycling and walking in Delaware. He helped create, and continues to lead Bike Delaware's participation in, the Walkable Bikeable Delaware campaign. During his tenure as Bike Delaware's executive director, Delaware advanced in the national Bicycle Friendly State rankings for five years in a row, farther and faster than any other state, ever.

    4 Responses to Bikes and Small Cars

    1. Anonymous
      June 29, 2011 at 12:15 pm

      The WSJ article cited, says that in vehicle to vehicle collisions, the death rate is almost twice as high as large cars, not 300%. That rate is in single car crashes, which implies poor or impaired driving. However the article was about "mini" cars, all small cars (Honda Civics, Honda Fit, Mazda 3, Toyota Matrix, Ford Fiesta), not MINI Coopers as a specific brand.
      the high death rate for little cars is not quite as high as those who drive Corvettes, Miatas and other small but higher powered vehicles.

      As someone who rides a bicycle about 3000 miles per year and drives my MINI about 9000 miles per year, I feel the most dangerous car on the road when I am driving or riding is a Mercury Grand Marquis or Ford Crown Vic (civilian driving), or anything made by Buick. The demographics and skills of those drivers give me a lot more to fear than someone driving a MINI.

    2. James
      June 29, 2011 at 12:34 pm

      "[I]n single-vehicle crashes, where there's no oversized second vehicle to blame, the difference is even greater: Passengers in minis suffered three times as many deaths as in large cars."

    3. Frank Warnock
      June 29, 2011 at 3:41 pm

      "The demographics and skills of those drivers give me a lot more to fear than someone driving a MINI."

      Interesting observation. I would be very curious what vehicle type kills or injures the most cyclists and pedestrians, crunch the numbers and see what pattern(s) result. I would bet real money it's pickup trucks. Almost every crash, near miss, or other altercation I hear about, that is the vehicle cited almost every time. And it has been my experience as well. I do not wish to single out a particular user group, and I am careful who I say that too, but it is what it is. On the flip side, no one in a Prius or Cooper has ever come close to me, not that I can recall in recent memory anyway.

      I remember Lance Armstrong was nearly run down by a pickup who's driver went off the road after him, and he survived by bailing out and hiding in a ditch. Luckily the guy was caught and prosecuted through eyewitness account – a linesman on a phone pole who happened to be looking that way.

    4. johnbare
      June 29, 2011 at 10:13 pm

      For a great and lengthy explanation of the most dangerous vehicles on the road, read "High and Mighty," SUVs:The World's Most Dangerous Vehicles And How They Got That Way, by Keith Bradsher, Public Affairs, 2002. While the book does not address bicycles, the takeaway message is the same: SUVs have the highest "kill ratio" and the Ford 150 is the champion.

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