Road Rage

Scary Stats
By Patrick O'Grady
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Biking in a busy city
Biking in a busy city (Hemera)

"Road rage is a growing and dangerous phenomenon in our country," Elissa Margolin said when she was executive director of the League of American Bicyclists. "As people make different commuting choices, like biking to work, we need to underscore the 'share the road' message. Both bicyclists and motorists are users of the roadway, and should share the same rights, same roads, same rules."

The penitential American roadway comes with its own death row.

According to an analysis of California accident data published in the Los Angeles Times, 58 cyclists were killed in Orange County from 1994 to 1998. But while the number of bike accidents in the county actually declined 16 percent during 1994 to 1998, those involving adults 45 and older rose more than 10 percent. And nationwide, a recent federal report found that the average age of cyclists killed in traffic accidents increased from 24.1 in 1988 to 32.1 in 1998.

Some speculated that the higher mortality rate could be linked to increased use of bikes as basic transportation by adults who either can't afford cars or appreciate the health benefits of cycling. And Gilbert Geis, a University of California—Irvine expert on crime statistics, said the data are "intriguing" and merit further examination.

Well, that's what medical examiners are for, right?

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, a study by transportation consultant Charles Komanoff suggested that cyclists and pedestrians would be well advised to take cover when they see a male driver approaching.

According to the New York Times, Komanoff's study found that males constituted 91 percent of the drivers in a 1994 to 1997 sample of New York City accidents that killed either a pedestrian or cyclist. Nationally, at the time, men account for about 63 percent of miles driven, according to federal stats. But Komanoff's group, the pedestrian-cyclist advocacy group Right of Way, estimated that men did 75 percent of the driving in the Big Apple, once taxi and bus drivers are factored in.

And lest anyone blame the body count on sloppy cycling, Komanoff told the Times: "Bicyclist fatalities are not just a product of cyclists' recklessness or carelessness, but a male driver's resentment—if not rage. Men want the bicyclists to get out of their way."

Editor’s note (May 2012): This article highlighting the contentious conflict between drivers and bikers was written in April 2002. But has much changed over the intervening decade? Fuel prices have risen even higher, and new trends like fixed-gear bikes and compact electric commuter bikes put even more riders on the road. Using data from the 2010 Census, the League of American Bicyclists put out a report in 2011 showing that, from 2000 to 2010, the number of commuter cyclists alone rose 39 percent nationwide, and 63 percent among the nation’s top 70 cities. We’d like to hear readers’ perspectives. How often do you ride your bike in motor traffic, and what are the conditions like on your streets—is road rage still alive and well? Sound off in the comments section.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 7 May 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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