As biking becomes more popular, fatalities creep upward

Minneapolis and St. Paul are consistently ranked among the most bike-friendly cities in the country. Even so, however, tragic bicycle accidents in the Twin Cities are hardly a rarity. A new report from the Governor's Highway Safety Association suggests that bike safety may be an issue of growing concern throughout the nation, and that certain cyclists are particularly at risk of being hurt or killed in a crash with a car or other motor vehicle.

Until recently, fatal bike accidents in the United States had been declining substantially for decades, along with overall motor vehicle deaths. For nearly three decades, bike deaths held steady at about 2 percent of all traffic fatalities. From 2010 to 2012, however, the number of cyclists killed in collisions with cars in the U.S. spiked by 16 percent - rising from 621 to 722 during that two-year period. Meanwhile, overall crash-related deaths increased by just 1 percent.

With benefits come risks, especially for certain key groups

One possible explanation for the recent spike in bicycle deaths is that biking has enjoyed a boom in popularity during the past few years. Not only are many bikers attracted to the reduced carbon footprint associated with traveling by bike instead of car, but they are often driven by health considerations as well - not to mention the pure enjoyment of the activity.

Despite the many benefits, however, there are also certain undeniable risks associated with biking, including the danger of collisions with motorized vehicles. That risk is multiplied in the presence of distracted drivers, which safety experts say may be another factor in the recent bike fatality boom. Because bicyclists are far less massive than motor vehicles, and lack the protective structure that a car or truck provides, they face a much higher risk of death or serious injury than vehicle drivers in the event of a crash.

The risk of traffic accidents may be particularly pronounced among those who rely on bicycling for their commutes to work or other transportation needs, as they often must travel on the same roadways as motorized traffic. Similarly, according to the GHSA report, bikers in urban areas face a higher risk than those in rural settings. In 1975, the researchers found, half of all bike deaths occurred in urban environments. By 2012, that figure had jumped to 69 percent.

Another marked change that has occurred over the decades with regard to bicycle fatalities is the shift in the relative risks faced by adult cyclists versus children. According to 1975 statistics, people age 19 and under made up 79 percent of all bike deaths nationwide. In 2012, 84 percent of bikers killed were age 20 or older. This change may be partially explained by changes in the popularity of the activity among members of both age groups over time.

Talk to a lawyer about your rights after a crash

When a bike accident happens in Minnesota, the injured cyclist - or his or her family members - may be able to recover monetary compensation to help offset their medical expenses, lost income and other damages caused by the crash. To learn more about the options that are available after a crash, talk to a lawyer with experience representing injured bikers.