Car v. bicycle crashes: Motorists at fault just over half the time, police report says

Thumbnail image for Cycling feature cover image.jpg
Big photos below.
In this week's feature, "On a Roll," we take a look at the growth of cycling in Denver and the potentially fatal consequences. As more Denver residents are hopping on bikes, tensions on the road seem to be at an all-time high -- and collisions between bikes and cars certainly are. Here, we dig deeper into a recent police report on where crashes are happening, who is at fault, and how the problem, at least by some measures, is worsening.

The August 30 "Auto / Bicycle Accidents" report, on view below in its entirety, comes from the Data Analysis Unit of the Denver Police Department; it was prepared for the Mayor's Bicycle Advisory Committee, or MBAC, a volunteer group that advocates for better bike infrastructure and other cycling interests. The report comes after a summer that far exceeded previous years in terms of the number of bike-vehicle collisions.

15th Street cyclist, drivers.JPG
Sam Levin
A cyclist rides in traffic on 15th Street -- where the city plans to put in place a bike lane next year.
As we noted in our feature, the city is preparing to launch a bike safety campaign that will seek to push positive messaging about sharing the road, following the laws, respecting cyclists, etc. The campaign was first officially discussed in August during a somewhat heated meeting between several city agencies, civic groups and bike advocates. That discussion occasionally derailed into a philosophical debate on how cities can prevent collisions, who bears the burden of this challenge, who is more often at fault and how culture around biking can change.

Many in attendance agreed on one thing: More data -- and more specific data -- would help everyone better understand the problem.

At that time, MBAC was already asking DPD for this information, and a few weeks later, the department released the report to the coalition.

Here are some key findings:

• Auto/bicycle accidents have been on an increasing trend over the past ten years. Year-to-date, auto/bicycle accidents have increased 13.2 percent over a ten-year average.

• Accidents in May and June this year were significantly higher than the average for those months over the last ten years.

• In 2011, the top three neighborhoods for auto/bicycle accidents were: Lincoln Park,
Capitol Hill and City Park West.

• The top three neighborhoods for auto/bicycle accidents from January through August 23, 2012 were Five Points, Capitol Hill and Civic Center.

• Over a ten-year average, 61 percent of accidents occurred between noon and 7 p.m.

• The majority of auto/bicycle accidents occur on weekdays.

• The majority of violations written for bicycle infractions were: bicycles subject to traffic
control devices and bicycles subject to traffic laws.

• The highest number of violations for citations tied to auto/bicycle crashes were bicycles subject to traffic laws and riding on the sidewalk.

• Motorists are at fault slightly over 50 percent of the time in auto/bicycle accidents.

Continue for analysis of these findings and more specifics from the DPD report.

Sponsor Content

My Voice Nation Help
Marc J. Beerline
Marc J. Beerline

As a cyclist myself, Depends on the situation. Cars: pay attention! Cyclists: if you're gonna breeze through those reds and drive like you're better than cars, be willing to accept the consequences--you'll loose every time. Bottom line though is communicate and remain assertive! Oh, and all taxi drivers need to go to driving school.

Jon Fischer
Jon Fischer

You're in a 2 ton cage of metal and glass being propelled by explosions. Why don't you leave the house 10 min early, drive the speed limit, stop F&$%ing texting, be kind to people and drive safe. Have some patience people. If you rode a bike to work for a week you would realize what idiots drivers are and how little they value the life of pedestrians.

John Tenorio
John Tenorio

No!!! I'm a truck driver downtown & the highlands area these bicyclist think they own the frekn road..


I have played in traffic downtown for the last 10 years plus. The best is Friday 4:30 to 5:15 or so. Drivers are insane right then and it is too congested to get caught. Bike cops cant keep up with follow the leader. Always overly aggresive and never have been hit. Because I pay attention, all focus toward the other cars and what is going on around me. Head and eyes are in constant movement. I know when it goes down I will be at fault. Had some really fun close calls over the years. I am looking forward to my first ticket. Gonna frame it. If I dont get creamed first. I laugh at both sides, drivers suck, bikers suck. Im in the middle, no rules. Also I am a great driver, have had quite a bit of school for it. All of you really, really entertain me. Thanks for the good times ; P


I walk along the bike designated 16th Avenue to Downtown from Cheesman Park every day, and I can tell you that the blame for accidents goes both ways. As the statistics show, I think motorists shoulder the most, and it not only applies to incidents with bikes, but pedestrians as well. Right of way means nothing to most people driving, and you can see that when those same people ride bikes also. Attitude is to blame for the accidents and near misses (more than anyone out there is willing to admit), until people stop thinking that laws and rules don't apply to them, the accident rates will continue to climb.

RobertChase topcommenter

No, the fault is a collective one:  our resignation to the status quo of bicyclists being forced to travel in the same right-of-way as vehicles 100 times as massive as their own is insane.  We must provide bicyclists with safe, dedicated lanes of travel.


The situation for cyclists would improve were we similarly to provide safe passage for ultralight vehicles which transport commuters at highway speeds while achieving fuel efficiency in excess of 100 mpg.  The key to progress is the understanding that our present transportation system is both grossly inefficient and, in that transportation fuels are heavily dependent on imported oil, a fantastic liability for the security of our nation.  The use of bicycles and other highly efficient vehicles is patriotic, and we need to support it in preference to the use of the unnecessarily massive vehicles which have served to drive an irrational and aggressive foreign policy and now imperil those who choose more appropriate transportation.

michael.roberts moderator editortopcommenter

 @Will_ Great post, Will. We're going to make it an upcoming Comment of the Day. Thanks for weighing in.

Now Trending

Denver Concert Tickets

From the Vault