Report shows too many drink before biking

WASHINGTON — Most know that drinking and driving is dangerous, but what about drinking and biking?

A report by the Governors Highway Safety Association shows that 25 percent of the cyclists killed in the U.S. were drunk, with blood alcohol concentrations of .08 or higher.

The report cites statistics from an earlier study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which shows those fatalities with the highest blood alcohol content were most often men between the ages of 30 and 49, riding in urban areas between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m.

Dr. Allan Williams, a consultant with the Governors Highway Safety Association who compiled the report, says most don’t associate drinking with biking. “We think of it as a healthy activity, but there’s this sub-group out there drinking and biking, and that’s not good, obviously.”

The report also cites a lack of helmet use among cyclists as a “major contributing factor” in fatalities. In 2012, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported 726 bike fatalities; of those, 65 percent were not wearing helmets.

Williams says it’s not possible to say for sure if the deaths were related to head injury and if helmets would have made a difference in those cases. “But certainly the majority of fatal injuries are because of fatal injuries to the head,” he says.

Williams’ report for the Governors Highway Safety Administration points out that there’s a continued debate over the use of bike helmets. Some cycling advocates argue pushing for mandatory helmet use discourages cycling altogether. Others argue that the intended purpose of bike helmets is to protect the head in a fall, not in a collision with vehicles.

Among the conclusions in the report: Cyclists’ safety isn’t entirely dependent on helmets or sober riding — road engineering has to be considered. Williams says that, along with education and enforcement of vehicle laws, plans to protect cyclists on the road should include road design.

How do jurisdictions in the local region compare?

Bike fatalities in D.C.:

  • 2010 : 2 deaths
  • 2011: 1 death
  • 2012: 0 deaths

In Virginia:

  • 2010: 12 deaths
  • 2011: 6 deaths
  • 2012: 11 deaths

In Maryland:

  • 2010: 8 deaths
  • 2011: 5 deaths
  • 2012: 5 deaths

Read the report:

Bicycle safety report

WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this report. Follow @WTOP on Twitter and WTOP on Facebook.

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