According to the National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTSA), approximately 50,000 cyclists are injured after being hit by a motor vehicle each year. Between 2010 and 2011, deaths increased nine percent across the country. In Utah alone, 680 cyclists were injured in 2010 and 747 were injured in 2011. Public safety sources like the Fayette County Health Department estimate that 90% of bike-related deaths involve a collision with a motor vehicle. Because cyclists have little protection compared to the other vehicles who share the road, they are more susceptible to life-altering and life-threatening injuries. Below we have provided a brief summary detailing three of the most common severe injuries sustained in bicycle accidents:

  • Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
  • Spinal Cord Injury (SCI)
  • Orthopedic Injury (OI)


Traumatic Brain Injury

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), estimates that 1.7 million people sustain a TBI injury every year. Three percent of those people die that same year. The CDC estimates that 5.3 million Americans currently live with long-term or lifelong brain injuries, many of which were caused in bicycle accidents. Life can be excruciatingly debilitating for those who suffer severe TBI injuries. The list includes:

  • severe amnesia
  • subdural hematomas (a collection of blood on the surface of the brain, which can cause nausea, slurred or confused speech, numbness, difficulty with balance or walking, etc.)
  • brain hemorrhaging
  • seizures
  • dizziness
  • memory loss
  • blurred vision
  • depression
  • attention loss
  • personality changes

The list continues. These effects, along with many others, dramatically alter one’s everyday life, work and personal relationships. They not only affect the individual, but also take an emotional toll on those around them, like loved ones, relatives, and friends. Though they do not entirely prevent severe head or brain injury,¬†bicycle helmets substantially reduce the risk of TBI and other head injuries when worn properly.

Spinal Cord Injury

The spinal cord consists of a large network of nerve tissue that makes up the central nervous system. Depending on the location of the injury, damaging this system often leads to permanent disability or paralysis. Injured persons who suffer paralysis are categorized as suffering from either paraplegia (paralysis of the lower half of the body) or quadriplegia (loss of mobility in the arms and legs). When the spinal cord is completely damaged, this usually leads to a total loss of feeling below the injury. About 42% of the 12,000 people each year who suffer from a spinal cord injury receive it in an accident with a motor vehicle. Hospitalization typically lasts for months and requires hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Orthopedic Injury

Injuries to the joints, including knee and shoulder injuries, are also common in cycling accidents because they are often the first points of contact when in an accident. Joints are susceptible to injury because they are typically unstable, with little protection around them. Accidents can easily cause ligament, tendon or cartilage damage. It does not require much to damage a joint, including a slight twist or bump that jolts it out of place. Damaging joints can cause chronic instability and weakness which tend to get worse as you get older. Though the symptoms of these injuries may not be permanent or alter one’s life as dramatically as spinal cord or traumatic brain injuries, they can still limit your functional ability and put you out of work for months. Common symptoms include:

  • swelling
  • popping
  • clicking
  • pain
  • weakness
  • limited range of motion

Photo courtesy of: Paul Long