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For the 35-year period prior to 1970, bicycle sales to the United States increased at a small and relatively constant rate. Except for a short period during World War II, the annual increase in bicycle sales was due principally to increased usage by juveniles. There has been a steady increase in the size of the juvenile population In the United States and, owing to the increased affluence of most families, an increasing proportion of the juvenile population has been provided a bicycle at an early age. Survey data indicate that by 1968 nearly 90% of all juveniles over seven years of age were bicyclists (Vilardo & Anderson, 1969). A similarly high incidence of bicycling among juveniles was reported in a more recent survey conducted by Chlapecka and his colleagues (1975). Since most juveniles rode bicycles regularly in 1968 (and possibly before), the so-called "bike boom" that commenced in 1969 was due principally to a dramatic increase in the use of bicycles by the teenage and adult populations.

The increased use of the bicycle by teenagers and adults was the result of many interacting factors, but probably the most important single factor was the discovery of the great efficiency of the lightweight multi-gear bicycle. Beginning in the mid-sixties, an increasing number of adult Americans discovered that the efficiency of the lightweight bicycle enabled them to ride faster and farther than was possible with the heavy, balloon-tire bicycle that most Americans rode prior to that time. Moreover, it was discovered that the headwinds and steep gradients that would exhaust riders of standard bicycles could be negotiated with relative ease on a lightweight bicycle.

Given the same constraints on time and physical capacity, the efficiency of the lightweight model bicycle has increased the number of functional trips that can be made on a bicycle and has increased the range of areas where recreational riding is possible. With proper physical conditioning and a good lightweight bicycle, bicyclists are able to travel some of the steepest roadways in the nation. An extreme example of the capabilities of well-conditioned bicyclists riding modern lightweight bicycles is provided by Forester (1975) who described an eight-day trip that traversed every Sierra pass with a roadway over it. The trip, completed by 47 bicyclists, covered 801 miles and a total of 57,900 feet of climb. Forester described the seventh day of the trip as follows:

The seventh day, it was 65 miles and 5,900 feet of climb to the start of the real climb. Then, after that easy start came the real climb--3,500 feet in nine miles with the grade peaking at 20% for 700 feet, followed by ten miles of descent and 25 miles of desert (Forester, 1975, p. 2.3-7).

Although the bike boom probably would not have occurred if the lightweight bicycle had not been available, it cannot be said that the availability of the lightweight bicycle caused the bike boom. Indeed, lightweight bicycles were in widespread use in many European countries long before they caught the fancy of the American consumer. The most fundamental cause of the bike boom was the emergence of a set of needs that were most fully satisfied by riding a lightweight bicycle. Most adults were motivated to purchase and use a bicycle by the need for a convenient and economical recreational activity or by the need for a more enjoyable form of physical exercise. However, a growing number of both teenagers and adults have been motivated by the desire to curtail their use of motor vehicles. The bicycling advocates of today do not hesitate to point out that the use of bicycles for both recreational and functional trips serves to decrease air pollution, conserve fossil fuel, decrease transportation and parking costs, decrease traffic congestion, and can decrease travel time for relatively short trips in congested areas.

The increasing interest in bicycling has been recognized and promoted by a variety of governmental agencies at all levels and by a variety of commercial and private organizations as well. Many local, state, and federal agencies have officially endorsed bicycling and have supported bicycling through legislative action to guarantee the rights of the bicyclist and to provide resources for research and development programs. Resources have been allocated to promote both safety and the quality of the bicycling experience. Many commercial and civic organizations have contributed their time and resources in promoting the safe use of bicycles; some of the most significant contributions have been made by organizations with no financial interest in bicycling whatsoever.

The increased use of bicycles has benefited society to many ways and the future benefits promise to be even greater. Unfortunately, the societal benefits realized from increased bicycle usage have been partially offset by an increase in the number of deaths and injuries resulting from bicycle accidents. The National Safety Council (1977) reports that the current death rate (number of deaths per 100,000 bicycles in use) is one-thirteenth the rate in 1935; but even so, the annual toll of fatalities and serious injuries resulting from bicycle accidents remains at an intolerably high level. The intolerability of the current level of bicycle-related accidents is evidenced by the fact that hundreds of agencies and thousands of individuals have expended time and resources in attempting to develop ways to reduce the incidence of bicycle accidents. The attempts to reduce bicycle accidents can be grouped into three general approaches: enforcement and adjudication, engineering, and education. Each of these approaches is discussed briefly below.

In recent years, considerable effort has been expended to an attempt to develop a set of bicycle laws and ordinances that are more specific than those of the past. It has been recognized that the rules governing bicycling in traffic cannot meaningfully be defined by simply stating that bicyclists are subject to the same rights and responsibilities as motor-vehicle operators. The excellent work of a panel formed by the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Laws and Ordinances resulted in a thoughtful and comprehensive document that describes the panel's recommendations about uniform bicycle taws and ordinances, and the considerations that led to these recommendations (National Committee on Uniform Traffic Laws and Ordinances, 1975). In addition to the development of more meaningful laws and ordinances, many law enforcement agencies have expended considerable time and resources to developing effective procedures for apprehending violators and to developing deterrents that are both equitable and effective. Contrary to popular belief, police officers derive no pleasure from issuing a bicyclist a citation; in fact, most of them feel that citing bicyclists is the most distasteful and least important part of their job. As a consequence, it has been recognized by many enforcement agencies that a prerequisite of an effective enforcement program is a program to educate patrol officers about the severity of the bicycle-accident problem and the necessity to apprehend and cite bicyclists who violate the laws.

Attempts to reduce bicycle accidents through engineering have taken two forms -- improving the design of the bicycle and improving the design of the roadway system. With very few exceptions, both foreign and domestic bicycle manufacturers have long recognized that the continued success of their industry is heavily dependent on producing safe bicycles. Through the years, there have been many design innovations which have increased the safety of the bicycle. To ensure that all bicycle manufacturers comply with generally accepted safety standards, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recently established a set of safety standards that define minimum design and performance requirements for all parts of the bicycle and many bicycle accessories as well. These standards were documented in the Federal Register in June of 1974 and became law on January 1, 1975 (Consumer Product Safety Commission, 1974). Although some of the CPSC design standards remain controversial, there is little doubt that the establishment of these standards represents an important benchmark in the continuing effort to enhance safety through bicycle design. Future design innovations that further enhance the safety of the bicycle undoubtedly will be incorporated into CPSC design standards.

As indicated above, a second engineering approach to accident reduction is to design the roadway system to better accommodate bicycles. In the early 1970's, there were few bicycle enthusiasts who were not captivated with the idea of developing a comprehensive system of bicycle facilities that would include: off-street bike paths, on-street bike lanes, signed bicycle routes, grade-separated crossings, special intersection treatments, bicycle-storage facilities, and so on. When viewed in an abstract sense, it appeared that such a system was certain to effect a large reduction in bicycle accidents. However, when this approach to accident reduction was submitted to more careful study, the views on the utility of bicycle facilities became fractionated and a stormy controversy arose. Persons who oppose the construction of bicycle facilities argue that most facilities are unacceptably costly and may create as many safety problems as they solve. Also, some opposition stems from the fear that the construction of bike lanes and bike paths will lead to laws which restrict all bicycle riding to bike lanes and bike paths. Persons who advocate bicycle facilities have come to recognize that they must be carefully designed if they are to reduce accidents, but still believe that safe bicycle facilities can be designed. Moreover, they believe that bicycle facilities will serve to increase bicycle usage and that the benefits of increased bicycle usage is sufficient justification for the construction of bicycle facilities. Readers who are interested in the design and location criteria for bicycle facilities are referred to the works of Fisher et al. (1972); Smith (1975, 1976a, 1976b); and the California Department of Transportation (1978). Those interested in the views of one opponent of bicycle facilities are referred to the work of Forester (1975).

Education is the third general approach to reducing bicycle accidents and is the approach of primary interest for this report. The need for bicycle-safety education has been recognized for many years, probably from the time the first kid was hurt on the first bike. However, until after the onset of the "bike boom," there were only a few organizations that were concerned enough with the bicycle-accident problem to spend their time and resources developing bicycle-safety education materials. The Bicycle Manufacturers Association, formerly the Bicycle Institute of America, is among the organizations that have a long history of developing bicycle-safety education materials.

When the news media began to publicize the dramatic increase in bicycle accidents that accompanied the "bike boom," the public outcry for solutions to the problem led to a great demand for bicycle-safety education materials. A large number of private organizations and governmental agencies responded to this demand. The result was a deluge of safety films, safety posters, pamphlets listing bicycle laws and ordinances, bicycle-safety comic books, and numerous other kinds of one-shot educational materials. The development of these materials was followed shortly by the development of a few comprehensive bicycle-safety education programs, most of which were designed for use in public schools. These early materials and programs have been severely criticized for their simplicity and their failure to address the particular knowledge and skill deficiencies that lead to bicycle accidents. However, to be fair, any criticism of the products of these early efforts must be tempered by an acknowledgment that they were developed under severe time and budgetary constraints and with little empirical data on the causes of bicycle accidents.

The time and budgetary constraints and the lack of information about the causes of bicycle accidents have been perennial problems for persons responsible for the development of bicycle-safety education materials. Although scores of communities have attempted to develop a bicycle-safety education program in recent years, the programs have not been altogether satisfactory because there is no single community that has sufficient time and resources to develop the type of program needed to have a significant impact on the bicycle-accident problem.

The concern about the lack of progress in bicycle-safety education was a primary motive for the organization of a national conference on bicycle-safety education. In May of 1977, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission co-sponsored the first national conference on bicycle-safety education. The conference -- titled BIKE-ED 77 -- was attended by more than 200 persons from 37 different states. Together, the attendees represented a host of different governmental agencies, commercial organizations, civic groups, professional societies, and bicycle clubs. This large and heterogeneous group was brought together by the common belief that bicycle accidents represent an intolerable problem in the U.S. and that safety education is one of the most cost-effective ways to deal with this problem. Another belief expressed by the sponsoring agencies and endorsed by many of the attendees was that "...a lack of communication among people involved in bicycle safety (education) has fostered a duplication and fragmentation of safety efforts and, in some cases, contributed to the continuation of programs and activities based on misinformation and misunderstandings" (Lawrence Johnson and Associates, 1977, p. 1). The author is in complete accord with this general conclusion. Although this report was commenced prior to the Bike-Ed 77 conference, its objectives and content have been influenced greatly by the recommendations formulated at the conference and subsequently documented by the conference staff.


The purpose of this document is to provide a compendium of current information that may prove useful to persons engaged in the development, evaluation, or use of bicycle-safety education programs and materials. The document was prepared mainly for persons at the local level who are given the responsibility for developing a bicycle-safety education program and have little or no time to review the literature and conduct research. This document is not intended to be a comprehensive review of the literature. Rather, an attempt has been made to identify the topics and issues most relevant to bicycle-safety education and to cite the fewest number of references needed to characterize the current state of knowledge about these topics and issues. It is believed that pointing out important gaps in our knowledge serves an important function, so care has been taken to identify important topics for which little information is available.


This report begins with a brief description of what is known about the size and composition of the U.S. population of bicycles and bicycle users (Section II). Data are presented on: bicycle sales and bicycles in use; the size, age distribution, and sex distribution of the bicycle user population; and the purpose and frequency with which bicyclists ride. Section III describes what is known and what is not known about the magnitude of the bicycle-accident problem. Separate subsections are devoted to the discussion of bicycle/motor-vehicle accidents and all other kinds of bicycle-related accidents. The incidence, consequences, and costs are estimated (nationwide) and the probable accuracy of these estimates is discussed. Sections IV and V contain detailed data from a recent study of bicycle/motor-vehicle accidents. Data are presented on the characteristics of the accident-involved operators, the type and condition of the accident vehicles, the type of trip the operators were on when the accident occurred, and the type of location at which the accident occurred. In addition, the accident-generation process is described for 36 different types of bicycle/motor-vehicle accidents. The accident location and the pre-crash actions of both vehicles are illustrated and discussed for the 25 most frequently occurring types of accidents and educational countermeasures are identified for each type of accident. Section VI contains a detailed discussion of educational objectives. This section is devoted mainly, but not exclusively, to the education of bicyclists. A large number of specific educational objectives are recommended and the basis for the recommendation is described. The report is concluded with a summary of the problems and issues that must be resolved before an effective educational program can be developed and implemented.

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Contents copyright 1978,
AAA Safety and Educational Foundation
Republished with permission
Internet edition prepared by John S. Allen