San Luis Obispo County leads California in bike deaths
April 27, 2015
By JOSH FRIEDMAN
Motor vehicle crashes are a frequent sight for many California motorists, but state roads are also plagued with bicycle collisions, and the Central Coast is a leading contributor to the problem, data from the California Highway Patrol shows.
In 2014, five bicyclists died in San Luis Obispo County crashes, the CHP reported. That placed SLO County as the statewide leader in bicycle fatalities per capita.
Including fatalities, SLO County ranks number five among California counties for the most collisions per capita. The Central Coast counties of Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara are higher on the list. CalCoastNews excluded Alpine County in the rankings. Alpine County has a population of less than 1,200 residents, the smallest in the state, and it jumps to the top of the rankings if one or two bicycle crashes occur in a year.
Santa Cruz County reported the most bicycle accidents per capita for each of the past three years. The population of Santa Cruz County is about the same as that of SLO County. Last year, Santa Cruz County reported 203 collisions. That was 81 more than SLO County.
Santa Barbara County trailed Santa Cruz County with 5.7 bicycle collisions per 10,000 residents in 2014. In 2014, the CHP received reports of 122 bicycle accidents in San Luis Obispo County. That equates to 4.5 bicycle crashes per 10,000 residents.
Third and fourth place went to Marin County and Yolo County.
As with San Luis Obispo County, Yolo, Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara counties each have universities that bring in more cyclists and increase bike traffic.
San Francisco previously ranked among the leaders in bicycle crashes per capita, but the total collisions reported in the county dropped from 699 in 2012 to 185 in 2014.
Statewide, bicycle collisions have decreased over the past couple years. They peaked in 2012 after several years of slight increases.
Most bicycle collisions reported locally involve bicycles and cars, according to records obtained from police departments in San Luis Obispo County. Less often, law enforcement receives reports of single-bicycle crashes or bicyclists colliding with pedestrians or other bicyclists.
CalCoastNews requested CHP data on bicycle crashes after the series of fatal SLO County collisions in 2014. Those fatalities included a Los Osos woman who died while riding with her fiancé.
The data CalCoastNews obtained from the CHP includes the total reported bicycle collisions, as well as the numbers of injuries and deaths that resulted from those collisions. The CHP provided data spanning 2003-2014, and CalCoastNews calculated each county’s per capita collisions for the years 2012-2014.
As usually occurs, Los Angeles County had the most bicycle collisions and fatalities among California counties. CHP data shows 4,376 bicycle crashes and 22 bicyclist deaths occurred in LA County last year. Per capita, LA County had the sixth most accidents per capita among California counties.
California statistics show that the counties with the highest rates of bicycle collisions do not tend to be densely populated. Rather, they tend to be coastal counties, often with a state university.
A national study recently found that bicycle collisions are occurring at an increasing rate in urban environments. In California, planners and legislators are encouraging city residents to bike to work as part of a statewide effort to reduce carbon emissions.
Local agencies have recently constructed many bike paths in California, and bicycle advocates say more are needed to improve safety conditions.
California lawmakers recently placed added responsibility on motorists in an attempt to reduce collisions. Last September, a law took effect that allows officers to cite drivers who come within three feet of bicyclists while passing them.
Nevertheless, of the 1,503 vehicle versus bicycle accidents in 2011 and 2012 in California, 61 percent were the fault of the bicyclist, 20 percent were the driver of a motor vehicle and the rest were not determined or hit-and-run, according to CHP data.
Central Coast police departments have recently begun conducting increased enforcement activities targeting bicyclists who break rules, like those against running stops signs and riding on the sidewalk. Police in the cities of Santa Barbara and Santa Maria, for instance, have focused efforts on intersections with frequent bicycle traffic and issued tickets to riders they catch violating traffic laws.
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