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Are Bicycle Manufacturers Addressing Safety Issues?

Bicycle Safety

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"Nationally, in 2007 43,000 bicyclists were injured and 698 died in accidents involving motor vehicles. In addition, the Federal Highway Administration reports that 70 percent of bicycle injury patients in emergency rooms did not involve a motor vehicle, and thus, went unreported to the police. The number of bicyclists visiting hospital emergency rooms is estimated to be in excess of 500,000 per year." –According to the Maguire Law Firm

In spite of the fact that most people – particularly parents – are convinced that bicycle riding is dangerous, it's an established fact that bicycle riders travel more miles before incurring injury than pedestrians – and more hours before an accident than drivers of passenger vehicles.

Part of this may be due to school-centric bicycle safety programs offered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. This program, also offered under Safe Routes to School, or SRTS, is designed to reach an increasing number of children who bike to school.

How are manufacturers addressing this serious, and sometimes tragic, problem? Some are well ahead of the game, preempting the federal bicycle safety regulations which provide for standardization and safety equipment laws including light, light reflector and helmet use.

For example, as far back as 1970, the Bicycle Manufacturer's Association (BMA) developed a safety standard. It was only five years later that the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, or CPSC, developed similar but more extensive regulations which were published in a 20-page document that the CPSC says took more than five years to disseminate. The BMA, whose statement of values notes that the independent bicycle dealer is accountable for recommending only products that improve the safety, convenience and comfort of the customer's cycling experience, studied product (accident) causation and subsequently defined four areas where manufacturing paradigm were deficient. These included:

  • The rider's foot slipping off of the pedal
  • Brake failure
  • Component failure
  • Insufficient night visibility (i.e., drivers couldn't see bikes)

The most significant measure, helmet use, is advocated by the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute, or BHSI, a nonprofit, 100-percent consumer funded bicycle safety information and legislation entity.

bike helmet safety

bike helmet safety

 Image courtesy of Dan at

Since 1978, when bicycles became a regulated commodity and the so-called "bike boom" ended, these federal rules have been developed and put in place by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, or CPSC, and these rules have the force of law.

At the state level, most cyclists are required to obey traffic safety laws designed for passenger vehicles; i.e, stop, speed limit, turn and lane usage, no parking and restricted traffic signs like Do Not Enter.

Because bicycles (and their riders) are fragile, most cities and municipalities have bicycle only and shared use (bicycle/pedestrian) paths. Some cities restrict bicycles from sidewalks. To date, only 21 states and the District of Columbia have put bicycle helmet laws in place. Other bicycle safety features, from state to state, may include a rear bike reflector for safety at night, and more locally, a rear blinking light for the same purpose.

The issue of bicycle safety has grown significantly since the recent recession and gas prices that make consumers shudder and tear out their hair. This issue is "watered down" by the fact that most bicycle manufacturing has moved overseas, usually to China. Thus Worksman Cycles and the handful of other U.S. bicycle makers find themselves on a downward economic spiral which has driven the BMA away from safety analysis and toward manufacturer and retailer advocacy.

As a result, bicycle safety regulation has become a market force, with product liability lawsuits pressuring manufacturers to reduce the dangers inherent in product design. This has the positive result of inspiring manufacturers to perform their own R&D, inform the cycling public about flaws that can't be rectified by design changes, and encouraging cyclers to perfect their own safety workarounds.

The frosting on the cycle safety cake is a requirement by the CPSA that firms which have lost or settled three or more claims relating to a particular product model to report same to the CPSA. This log then becomes the basis for more R&D into design parameters.

Interestingly, a recent CPSC study found that bicycles which were in compliance with the BMA/6 standard (upon which the CPSC's standard is based) had a slightly higher incidence of product failure than bicycles which did not comply with BMA/6.

Has your bike had any manufacturing issues that led to an accident? Do you have any suggestions on what could improve bicycle design? Feel free to leave comments and feedback.


Andrew Miller is an avid green business and legal blogger. He manages over 20 attorney blogs. This article was written on behalf of the Maguire law firm

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