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Why are bike deaths and injuries becoming more common in Sacramento County?

Just about everything these days has a national day, week, or month. Bicycling is no exception, as May is National Bike Month. But given the health benefits—both physical and mental—of getting out and working those pedals, the pastime enjoyed by millions of Americans is more than deserving of the recognition.

This gives enthusiasts an excuse to tout the benefits of bicycling and get more people to hang up the car keys in favor of a helmet and bike lock. But at the same time, now is a good time to raise awareness of safety risks that bicyclists face, and what can be done to keep them safe.

Last week, KCRA 3 reported on the rising number of bicyclists and pedestrians that have been killed by cars in Sacramento County over the past few years. While the number of deaths declined after the recession nearly a decade ago, the rate of deaths in the county has been on an upward trend since 2010, with 2015 nearly matching the 5-year high of 48 deaths in 2013.

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The deadliest areas of Sacramento are on the outskirts

While Downtown Sacramento is the heart of bike culture in Sacramento County, it turns out that most serious accidents involving bicyclists and pedestrians take place in the more urban areas of the Sacramento sprawl. In fact, deadly bike accidents may be happening where they are precisely because of their distance from downtown, where awareness of bicyclists is highest. As Jim Brown of the Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates group put it, “A lot of the fatal collisions that we’re seeing in Sacramento, and really statewide, are happening not in our kind of traffic — calm downtown central locations — but really in the peripheries of our community, where there’s been a little bit less investment in these kind of issues.”

The KCRA 3 report identified five key intersections that are the apparent epicenters of bike and walking deaths in Sacramento, from north to south:

  • Watt Avenue & Arden Way
  • Broadway & Martin Luther King, Jr Boulevard
  • Fruitridge Road & Stockton Boulevard
  • Fruitridge Road & 65th Street Expressway
  • Franklin Boulevard & 47th Avenue

The cause of the bike deaths is clear, even if the reason for their increase is not

Experts are unclear as to why the number of bike deaths is on the rise (or why they had previously dropped during the recession). But the fact is that the numbers are on the rise, and in fact upward trend in Sacramento exceeds the national average. And experts don’t have to look hard to find common causes for accidents.

Everyone—drivers, bike riders, and pedestrians—is distracted. When KCRA 3 visited the accident epicenters, it found that many drivers were on their phone instead of keeping their eyes on the road. And a recent study conducted by the California Office of Traffic Safety found that 40% of pedestrians were distracted by their phones. While bike riders aren’t as apt to have their phones in hand, many urban riders do tend to have their headphones in, making it more difficult for them to hear oncoming cars. The high incidence of distraction on the road—regardless of location—becomes deadly when combined with the relative lack of bike lanes and high rates of speed common to the areas of Sacramento where most deadly accidents are occurring.

It’s easy to stay safe while biking, as long as you’re careful

The general rule of bicycling is: ride with traffic. Bicyclists should be aware that California law requires them in most circumstances to ride on the right side of the road, with the exception of multi-lane one-way streets. If there is a bike lane available, you must use it unless you are matching the speed of traffic, or when turning, passing, or avoiding hazards.

Secondly, bicyclists in California who are riding at night are required to have a white headlight mounted on the front of the bike, or attached somewhere to the front of the bicyclist’s body or head. Additionally:

  • A red reflector or light must be mounted on the back of the bike
  • Yellow or white reflectors must be visible on or near each of the pedals
  • White or yellow reflector must be mounted on the front half of the bike so that they are visible from both sides
  • Red or white reflectors must be mounted on each side of the back half of the bike.

Lastly, while bicyclists are allowed to use handheld phones while riding, they are not permitted to have headphones in both ears while riding.

While following the law will go a long ways towards ensuring your safety while biking around Sacramento, we strongly encourage that you don’t just do the minimum to meet the standards of local laws. Even if you are over the age of 18 and not required to wear a helmet, please do so. Many bicyclists have survived serious accidents because they chose to wear bike helmets. And we have worked with many clients who have suffered serious, debilitating brain injuries that were exacerbated by the fact that they didn’t wear helmets.

Sacramento is a wonderful place to get out and admire the sights from the vantage point of a bicycle seat. Many of the attorneys at Ashton & Price are avid bicyclists. But please be sure to protect your health and well-being when you’re out on the road: follow the law, as well as recommended safety rules.

Now get out there and enjoy the rest of National Bike Month!

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