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Bike lanes matter less than light or speed in reducing severity of injuries in crashes, study shows

Photo of Dietrich Jehle

Jehle and colleagues found that the severity of injuries to cyclists were almost the same, whether the cyclist was riding in a bike lane or with traffic.

Release Date: May 30, 2013

“Our findings show that bike lanes or paved shoulders by themselves do not significantly reduce the severity of injuries sustained by cyclists.”
Dietrich Jehle, MD, UB professor of emergency medicine
UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences
Photo of Dietrich Jehle

Dietrich Jehle, MD

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BUFFALO, N.Y. – With more cyclists taking to the road, more cities are creating dedicated bike lanes. But a University at Buffalo study has found that dedicated bike lanes are not necessarily the most important factors in reducing the severity of injuries in crashes between bikes and motor vehicles.

The findings were presented May 16 at the annual meeting of the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine by co-author Dietrich Jehle, MD, professor of emergency medicine in the UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and at Erie County Medical Center. Kelsey Helak, a student in the UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, was first author.

The UB study examined whether cyclists injured in accidents with motor vehicles while traveling in bike lanes had less severe injuries than cyclists traveling in the same lanes as motor vehicles. Previous research has shown that bike lanes do reduce the number of bike-motor vehicle accidents that occur, Jehle says.

The UB study was based on National Highway Traffic Safety Administration cycling injury severity data from 2010 and data about factors affecting bike-motor vehicle crashes from 2002-2010.  

“Our findings show that bike lanes or paved shoulders by themselves do not significantly reduce the severity of injuries sustained by cyclists,” says Jehle. “The data show that other factors may be more important in reducing the severity of cyclists’ injuries, including the speed of motor vehicles traveling near them and how much light there is.”

The data show that other factors, including alcohol use by either the cyclist or the motor vehicle driver, riding in darkness – even with streetlights – and the posted speed limit of a road, are more significant safety factors for cyclists to consider and adjust for than riding in bike lanes.

Jehle and colleagues found that the severity of injuries to cyclists were almost the same, whether the cyclist was traveling in a bike lane or with traffic. The study did control for posted speed limit, alcohol use by the motor vehicle driver, time of day, weather and cyclist’s use of a helmet.

The UB study notes that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has reported that while only 1 % of trips in the U.S. are made by bicycle, 2 % of all traffic fatalities are those of bicyclists.

Besides Helak and Jehle, co-authors are: Joseph Consiglio, data manager/statistician for the UB Department of Emergency Medicine and a graduate student in the Department of Biostatistics in the School of Public Health and Health Professions, and Juliana Wilson, DO, a post-doctoral scholar in the UB Department of Emergency Medicine.

Media Contact Information

Ellen Goldbaum
Senior Editor, Medicine
Tel: 716-645-4605
goldbaum@buffalo.edu
Twitter: @egoldbaum