21 percent of autopsies of New York City bicyclists who died within three hours of their accidents detected alcohol in the body, according to a Department of Health and Mental Hygiene study that examined fatal bicycle accidents in New York City from 1996 to 2005, as reported in The New York Times. 176 out of 225 bicyclists who died in fatal accidents during the 10-year time period were tested for alcohol. Because alcohol is metabolized with time, only 84 of those cases the bicyclist had died within three hours of the crash were considered to have valid tests. 18 of those (21%) showed signs of alcohol.
On the drivers side of the equation, alcohol was detected in 6 percent of the drivers involved in bicycle crashes. Wearing a helmet can be a life saver. Head injuries contributed to three-quarters of bicycle deaths. Yet only 3 percent of the bicyclists who died were wearing helmets. Types of accidents made a difference. 92 percent involved a moving motor vehicle, while only one death in that period happened in a bicycle lane. Fourteen deaths were bicycle-only. Four deaths involved striking a parked vehicle, including one which had an open door.
The relative safety of bike lanes has not gone unnoticed. Engineering changes in the city are heading in the direction of bicycle lanes, says Catherine Stayton, director of the City’s health and mental hygiene department’s injury epidemiology unit. The study was published in the April issue of Traffic Injury Prevention and extended on research that had been released in a 2006 city report on bicycle accidents. The studies drew data from the Police Department, the transportation department, the health department and the medical examiners office. Key findings of the 2006 report include:
1. While bicyclist injuries declined between 1996 and 2003, fatalities remained steady. Between 1996 and 2003, a total of 3,462 NYC bicyclists were seriously injured in crashes with motor vehicles. The annual number of serious bicyclist injuries decreased by 46% during the 8-year period. Between 1996 and 2005, 225 bicyclists died in crashes. Bicyclist deaths remained steady during the 10-year period.
2. Bicyclist fatality rates in New York City are similar to national rates, though NYC has higher rates of cycling for transportation. The bicyclist fatality rate for NYC is similar to the national rate 2.8 compared to 2.7 per one million residents. Census data show that many more NYC adults (11% vs. 3%) walk or bicycle to work compared to the national average.
3. Nearly all bicyclist fatalities (92%) occurred as a result of crashes with motor vehicles. Most crashes (89%) occurred at or near intersections. Although they make up only 517% of vehicles on NYC roadways, large vehicles (trucks, buses) accounted for almost one third (32%) of fatalities. Nearly all (94%) fatalities involved poor driving or bicycle riding practices, particularly driver inattention and disregarding traffic signals and signs. Although there are many more miles of local roads, more than half of fatal crashes occurred on arterial (large, four lane) roads (53%). 7% of fatal crashes occurred on limited access highways, where bicycling is prohibited.
4. Bicycle lanes and properly used bicycle equipment may reduce the risk of fatalities. Only one fatal crash with a motor vehicle occurred when a bicyclist was in a marked bicycle lane. Nearly all bicyclists who died (97%) were not wearing a helmet. Most fatal crashes (74%) involved a head injury.
5. Nine possible fatality clusters were identified. Three locations where fatalities occurred in closest proximity were found in the east side of Manhattan north of midtown, Park Slope in Brooklyn, and Hunts Point in the Bronx. Locations where injuries occurred in close proximity were found in Midtown Manhattan, the northern sides of Central Park, and Central Bronx.
6. Men and children face particular challenges. Most bicyclists who died were male (91%), and men aged 4554 had the highest death rate (8.3 per million) per age group. Among children aged 514, the death rate for boys was more than five times higher than for girls; Queens had the highest child bicyclist death rate of the five boroughs (3.2 child deaths per million, compared to 2.1 child deaths per million citywide).
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