Walking, Biking More Dangerous in U.S.

American Pedestrians and Cyclists More Likely to be Killed Than Others

From the WebMD Archives

Aug. 28, 2003 -- Pedestrians and bikers beware: You're up to six times more likely to die walking or bicycling on American streets than in Germany or the Netherlands.

A new study shows the U.S. not only lags far behind other countries in implementing pedestrian and bicycling safety measures, but Americans are also much lazier when it comes to making short trips in the city by car rather than under our own power.

"Walking and cycling in American cities are much more dangerous than in many other countries," write researcher John Pucher, PhD, of Rutgers University and colleagues in a study published in the American Journal of Public Health.

Deadly Activities

"Per kilometer and per trip walked, American pedestrians are roughly three times more likely to get killed than German pedestrians and over six times more likely than Dutch pedestrians, " they write.

"Per kilometer and per trip cycled, American bicyclists are twice as likely to get killed as German cyclists and over three times as likely as Dutch cyclists."

Researchers say at least a quarter of all urban trips are done on foot or bicycle in most European countries, but only about 6% of urban trips were made through walking or bicycling in the U.S. in 1995.

Although many European cities are more compact than their American counterparts, researchers say the extraordinarily low 6% of trips made by walking or bicycling cannot be attributed to longer trip distances alone.

They say 41% of all urban trips in the U.S. are shorter than two miles and 28% are shorter than one mile, which means the potential for more walking and cycling already exists. But the problem is that cycling and walking are not only inconvenient in many cities, but they are significantly riskier than driving a car.

Making Walking and Cycling Safer

Researchers compared the walking and bicycling conditions in the U.S. with those in the Netherlands and Germany based on national travel and crash surveys from 1975 to 2001 and fatality and injury rates in the year 2000 for pedestrians and bicyclists in each country.


While the U.S. surgeon general specifically recommends more walking and bicycling as a practical measure to raise physical activity and combat the obesity epidemic, researchers found there are two main problems with proposals to increase walking and bicycling: inconvenience and danger.

Researchers say the Dutch and German examples show that it's possible to make walking and cycling safer and more attractive to residents. Proven safety measures that could be adopted in the U.S. include:

  • Creating better facilities for walking and cycling, like bike paths and walkways
  • Calming traffic in residential neighborhoods with speed bumps and reduced speed limits
  • Orienting urban designs to people rather than cars
  • Placing restrictions on motor vehicle use, such as car-free zones
  • Improving traffic education for motorists and non-motorists
  • Enforcing traffic regulations that protect pedestrians and bicyclists

"Only when the public and politicians become fully aware of the severity of the obesity problem -- and the huge potential of walking and cycling to mitigate the problem -- will public policies change enough to make a real difference," write the researchers.

WebMD Health News Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on August 28, 2003


SOURCES: American Journal of Public Health, September 2003. News release, Health Behavior News Service.

© 2003 WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved.