Study: Bikeshare Riders Are Safer Riders Than Bike Owners

Even though they're less likely to use helmets, bikeshare users are less likely to suffer injury. Is the reason the bikes themselves?

Photo via Indego

They may be less likely to wear helmets, but bikeshare riders are also less likely to have accidents to begin with. | Photo via Indego

Are bikeshare users more or less likely to be injured while riding than bike owners?

The answer, it turns out, is “less likely,” according to a new report released this week by the Mineta Transportation Institute.

The report, “Bikesharing and Bicycle Safety,” concludes that several factors related to the design of the bikes and the location of bikesharing stations contribute to a lower rate of injuries for riders of bikeshare bikes compared with those who ride privately owned bikes.

Researchers Elliott Martin, Adam Cohen, Jan Botha and Susan Shaheen analyzed data on bicycle collisions and bikesharing activity in Minneapolis-St. Paul, the San Francisco Bay Area and Washington, D.C., and conducted interviews with experts and focus groups in San Francisco to determine injury rates for bikeshare users compared with those for regular bicyclists.

What they found out was that, despite some factors that some experts saw as making bikeshare use more risky — bikeshare users are less likely to be experienced riders, to know local streets and to wear helmets, for instance — other offsetting factors made them less likely to get into accidents or sustain injuries.

One of the chief offsetting factors is the design of the bikes themselves. “The wide body and sturdy build of the bicycle has the feel of a heavy mountain bike, and this design may reduce the degree to which dangerous maneuvers are made on these bicycles,” Martin said in a news release. “This would imply that the bicycle design is influencing the bicyclist to act in a safer way.” Members of the focus groups also said they cited this as a key factor and said they observed bikeshare riders behaving more cautiously as a result.

The data backed up the focus groups’ impressions: The rate of nonfatal injuries for bikeshare riders was below U.S. and Canadian benchmark figures for bike riders overall.

Other possible factors contributing to the lower injury rate are the fact that bikeshare bikes all have lights for night riding and the relative inexperience of the bikeshare riders themselves, which leads them to engage in less risky riding practices.

The researchers raised the possibility that the location of bikeshare stations in higher-traffic areas where users are more likely to mix with regular riders could also contribute to a “safety in numbers” effect, but their data turned up no evidence that this contributed to the lower injury rate.

Since the launch of the first bikeshare networks, only three bikeshare riders have died while riding in North America, none of them in the United States.

Overall, the researchers wrote in their report, “bikesharing safety is at levels similar to or better than bicycling safety of the general population.” The researchers also suggested that their study could serve as a baseline for further research into the subject.

Check out the full, chart-packed study below.

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