San Luis Obispo County leads California in bike deaths

April 27, 2015


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.

bike wreckSanta 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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fishing village

I enjoy seeing bicyclist on our roads, but I’m sorry to read how many accidents we have. I hope we can provide better pathways for bike riders and that everyone driving vehicles be particularly careful when around them. I recommend that bikers wear lime green helmets and jackets and LED lights on their fenders. I welcome bike riders on our roads. It is exciting to see them enjoying our back roads. We need more bicyclists and less car drivers!


San Luis Obispo county also leads the nation in fetal alcohol syndrome. Not related, I know, but an aware community is an informed community–and knowledge is power.


Seems like the rule makers could end this needless tragedy by immediately outlawing bicycles on the roadway.


Or cars and trucks! (wait, don’t give them any ideas).


The neglectful behavior by SLO bicyclists is protected by an unwritten local law that exonerates them from fault when involved in vehicular collisions.

I was made aware of this in 2011 by one speedy Spandex who rammed into me when I turned right into a business complex off a congested Broad.

The guy even tried to bribe me into paying him $150 right there and then or he’d call the police, which of course I insisted be done. He rode off just fine afterward and awarded $800.

The peace officer informed me of this unwritten law right off, strangely. It’s existence was verbally confirmed when I paid a visit later to the SLOPD.

There is your reason why people on bicycles in SLO proudly ride with such gross neglect. *Don’t let them hit you!


That explains my experience yesterday when returning from Lopez Lake. As I am coming out of a blind curve there was a man and woman riding abreast of each other HOLDING HANDS of all things while riding on Lopez Dr. and a car coming my way.

Had I been in my work truck there would have been no way I could have slowed down in time and would have either hit the guy, or swerved to miss the guy and hit the car head on.the car.

Seems a little “dumb” to be riding on that road AND holding hands.


Have to comment. If he hit you while you were turning right, my guess is that you were at fault. You drove into his path.

I know a case where a driver was pulling out of her driveway and was hit by a bicyclist who was riding in the opposite direction on the sidewalk and ran right into her. The police came and sited the bicyclist.


Was there a marked bike lane that you crossed? If so, you may be legally responsible. If not, you shouldn’t have been responsible unless you made your turn so quickly after passing him that he had no time to react. (You did signal your turn didn’t you?)


With a few notable exceptions, this just means there are more dumb bicycle riders in this county.


Like those two dumb elderly gentlemen who were killed on Highway 1 in Morro Bay by a drunk woman, or that dumb avid bicyclist in Nipomo who was killed by a drunken woman. How about that dumb young man in Santa Maria that was killed by a young woman who was on her cell phone. Or that dumb tourist on Nacimiento Road who was killed by a young man who was on his cell phone.


I suppose you be okay with the story of the cyclist who crashed into a semi and killed the semi’s driver, sorry but that is just not going to happen….


Assuming you were making a theoretical point, I missed it. JMO was pointing out that many cycling deaths were not the cyclists’ FAULT. The fact that they were the ones who died is less relevant. A cyclist is almost always going to be the loser in a collision with a vehicle no matter who is at fault — no one is arguing otherwise. If you want to make a point about bad cyclists, relate incidences where their deaths were due to illegal or reckless behavior on their part.


This one “Los Osos woman hit and killed while cycling with fiancé” Octiber 2014…… No helmet crossing multiple lanes of traffic, not that a helmet would have made the difference but it does say something about a cyclist that doesn’t think to wear one.


Kayaknut, that is a good point. Bicyclists need to obey the rules of the road and be aware of their surroundings. They will never win in a collision between a bicycle and a car. I pointed that spot on LOV road out to my wife in the hopes that she doesn’t make poor judgment when she rides. I love her too much.

Please, if you are driving, be aware of cyclists. It is a very fine line between a safe trip and an accident.


Now that is a good example and I can think of a couple of others although they are a few years back. But the deaths come from negligence and/or carelessness on the part of drivers as much as on the part of cyclists. It is not all (or even mostly) the cyclists who are responsible.


What part of EXCEPTIONS do you not understand?

Jorge Estrada

The corridor, Santa Margarita to San Luis Obispo is a good example of the dangerous mix between vehicles and pedestrians. A bicyclist or a deer would not likely survive an encounter with the high speed traffic. In recent years, much of this corridor has been game fenced to keep the deer off the highway.


Basically, this is because of the mix of students, tourists, and Viagra-aged bicyclists who not only think that the rules of the road don’t apply to them as kayanut points out, but think that they own the road and are entitled to do whatever, wherever, and the rest of us have to pay for their hobby.

Bottom line is that in a contest between a car and a bike, it’s always going to end with one person having an insurance claim and the other being brained.


The good news is that the Viagra aged riders only make trips that last about two minutes at best.

Ted Slanders

Furthermore, if their riding lasts more than four hours, they’re to get their spandex and fairy like Mercury helmets off the damn road!


I realize that your comments are meant humorously but guess what, there are a LOT of long distance cyclists among the “Viagra-aged” crowd. (They are more likely to have the time available to train for long distance rides since most are retired.)


The long distance cyclists are also more likely to be conscientious cyclists since they spend more time on the road and often alone or with just one or two companions. One develops a better appreciation of vulnerability the more one is exposed to danger and, if intelligent, does something to minimize that vulnerability.


The title of the story could also be “San Luis Obispo County leads California in bike riders breaking Rules of the Road”. Most cyclists I see think stop signs, lights and such don’t apply to them.


Your point is well taken, nut, but as i recall, none of the bicyclists killed by car drivers recently were breaking the rules, but were hit by inattentive distracted (idiot) car drivers.


Gal on LOVR was at fault.


I drive a car daily as my primary source of transportation, but I do use my bike a few times a week for shorter trips. It is a commuter style bike, and I am an incredibly conscientious cyclist. That said, I cannot tell you how many times aggressive drivers have yelled at me, driven too close, thrown things at me, flipped me off, revved their engines, etc while I have been following rules of the road. Almost every time it has been at an intersection where my presence on a bike has caused them a few seconds delay. 100% of the aggressors have been young men in their late teens and early 20s. On the flip side, I can count on one hand the number of times that I have been affected by a cyclist disobeying the law, and I encounter dozens of cyclists on my daily commute.


Pretty much nailed it.

2 of those local deaths for sure were caused by one, a texting/inattentive driver, and 2, a drugged/drunk driver. The cyclists were innocent victims yet when one reads the vitriol directed at these particular dead riders on social media, it’s a wonder that our streets aren’t littered with squashed riders. Granted, there are some real douchebag riders out there taking part in the sport. I see way more douchebag drivers on the road than anything else.


One hundred percent??????? Really? I spent decades working 8-10 hours a day on highways, and that certainly doesn’t dovetail with what I experienced. I was present for 3 worker fatalities, and all were the fault of inattentive female drivers.


Yes, 100% of aggressive drivers I have encountered while on a bike have been young and male. Luckily I haven’t had any run ins (on foot, a bike, or in a car) with inattentive drivers of any gender– but without a crash or a close call, inattentive drivers escape notice.

fishing village

I am sorry to hear you have been treated so badly. I love seeing bicyclists on our roads. Such a healthy way to travel! Believe me I watch out for you and like seeing you on the road.


I too, am a cyclist who commutes more often by car than bike. Like you, I am an attentive and conscientious cyclist. However, my experience is somewhat different. I have been intentionally hassled by drivers who are annoyed at “being held up” but the incidences have been few. While I have also rarely been inconvenienced by scofflaw cyclists, I have witnessed proportionately as many incidences of that as I have of law breaking drivers (exception: speeding).

I will say though that it is the bad cyclists get noticed a lot more than the good ones. This results in a negative stereotyping which, for whatever reason, is not extended to bad drivers. Maybe it is because too many in society regard cycling as an “optional” activity and condemn all for the actions of a few whereas they regard vehicle driving as a “necessity” and accept the presence of the bad drivers as an unfortunate but inevitable consequence?


I think your second paragraph hits the nail on the head!

I also think my gender has something to do with the greater incidence of harassment. A few of the incidents have been in response to me ignoring a cat call or the driver trying to “pick up” on me while we are both stopped at the intersection. :/


I think your reasoning is off. SLO is like most other college towns in both a higher than average percentage of cyclists and a higher than average accident rate for them. The rule breaking probably follows in the same manner.

I think you need to be more observant and notice all cyclists, not just the ones that grab your attention with stupid, illegal or otherwise annoying habits. There are a lot of good, legal cyclists on the road too. They just don’t attract attention as much. Bad habits are most often the result of two things.

First is the ignorance of those who were never taught that bikes are basically slow-moving vehicles (like farm tractors) and have similar legal rights and responsibilities. This is responsible for a large number of cycling accidents in Santa Maria — usually involving Hispanics at intersections in the north end of town.

Second is an arrogant attitude that it is not really important to ride responsibly. This is more common in SLO and usually involves either students (surprise, surprise!) or people riding in large groups where stop signs and lights are more of an inconvenience than they are for a solo rider.


bad mix of the best weather and topography in California with narrow roads having no bike lanes and some of the worst, unfocused, under the influence drivers you’ll eve see.


Correct until the last statement. Some of the drivers here are both unfocused and bad but the proportion of them is no worse than any area with comparable demographics and better than some (especially on the east coast.)

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