The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently released its 2018 data on traffic fatalities, and the news is not good for riders of bicycles, especially women cyclists.

Motor vehicle travel has gotten safer since 2016

Although 36,560 people dying never sounds like good news, the number does show a 2.4% decrease in traffic fatalities in 2018 compared to 2017. Because there were also 1.8% fewer deaths in 2017 compared with 2016, the newly released numbers show that traffic deaths have now decreased in the United States two years in a row.

The number of cars and the mix of transportation options is constantly changing, so a better indicator of the safety of cars or drivers may be deaths per mile traveled. There was a 3.4% decrease in the number of fatalities per vehicle mile from 2017 to 2018, bringing the figure to the lowest fatality rate since 2014.

The new numbers hold plenty of good news, especially if you travel by motor vehicle. They show declines in deaths of children 14 or younger (decreased by 10.3%) and motorcyclists (4.7%), and as well as deaths related to alcohol (3.6%) and speeding (5.7%).

Women bicyclist fatalities soar

Unfortunately, the bad news is primarily among people on foot and pushing pedals. The ways of getting around that are best for the environment and that should be healthiest appear to be getting more deadly.

The 857 cyclists and 6,283 pedestrians killed in 2018 mean increases of 6.3% and 3.4%, respectively, over 2017. The pedestrian deaths were the highest since 1990.

Maybe the most shocking number in the new batch from NHTSA has to do with women cyclists. The 6.3% increase in cyclist fatalities is made up of a 3.2% increase in deaths of male cyclists and a 29.2% spike in women killed while cycling in 2018 compared to 2017.

Meaning of cyclist deaths spurs debate

It is not yet clear from the NHTSA release whether a jump in the number of miles traveled by women cyclists might play a role in the spike of female cyclist fatalities.

So far, comments about causes have brought some controversy, as the NHTSA press release points to night-time cycling and alcohol use among other contributing factors in the overall biking numbers, while commentators often claim failures to change infrastructure and car culture are greater concerns.