Cyclist Deaths In Motor Vehicle Crashes Rose 6 Percent In 2018

Motorcyclist and pedestrian deaths also up, NHTSA reports.

male adult riding bicycle down street
Cycling fatalities by motor vehicle crash in urban areas are up 48 percent since 2009, according to NHTSA.Cedric Brule/Unsplash

Some 1,000 fewer people were killed on US roads in 2018—down 2.4 percent from 2017—but the latest motor vehicle traffic fatality data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) does not contain good news for bicycle and motorcycle riders.

NHTSA reported that 857 bicyclists died in motor vehicle crashes last year, up more than 6 percent from 2017, and motorcycle deaths rose 5 percent to 4,985 fatalities. Additionally, pedestrian deaths rose more than 3 percent to 6,283—their highest level since 1990.

The agency’s report also highlights that the proportion of people killed “outside the vehicle” in traffic crashes—motorcyclists, pedestrians, pedal cyclists, and other non-occupants—as opposed to occupants inside a passenger car, light truck, large truck, or bus, has increased over the long term. The proportion of people killed outside the vehicle in crashes has risen from a low of 20 percent in 1996 to a high of 34 percent in 2018, NHTSA stated.

CV Pie Motor Chart
National Highway Traffic Safety AdministrationCourtesy

In urban areas of the US, traffic fatalities have increased sharply among cyclists, motorcyclists, and pedestrians over the past 10 years, according to NHTSA:

  • Pedal cyclist fatalities in urban areas increased by 48 percent since 2009; rural areas decreased by 8.9 percent.
  • Motorcyclist fatalities in urban areas increased by 33 percent since 2009; rural areas decreased by 15 percent.
  • Pedestrian fatalities in urban areas increased by 69 percent since 2009; rural areas increased by 0.1 percent.

For comparison, the US urban population increased by 13 percent from 2008 to 2017 (2018 data is not yet available from the US Census Bureau), while the rural population decreased by 12 percent.

NHTSA attributed the downward trend in overall traffic fatalities—both in 2018 and over the past 40 years—to such factors as increased seat belt use, decreases in impaired driving, and vehicle improvements including airbags and electronic stability control.

The agency also released initial estimates on overall motor vehicle-related deaths for the first half of 2019, showing a projected decrease of about 3.4 percent, to 17,479 fatalities, for the January–June period compared with a year earlier. NHTSA did not break out first-half statistics for cyclists, motorcyclists, or pedestrians.