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New Mexico is 2nd-deadliest state for bicyclists

Copyright © 2015 Albuquerque Journal

New Mexico is the nation’s second-deadliest state for bicyclists, for reasons ranging from the state’s high rates of substance abuse to a lack of designated bike lanes, officials said.

The number of cyclist deaths per capita for New Mexico was second only to that of Florida in 2010-12, and 50 percent higher than the U.S. rate in that period, the New Mexico Department of Health said in a recent report.

The report does not say how many deaths occurred during that period, but it does say 36 cyclists were killed in New Mexico from 2009 to 2013.

In 2013, seven New Mexico cyclists were killed, 89 were hospitalized and 1,684 were treated for injuries at hospital emergency departments and released, according to the report.

Cycling injuries are in line with the state’s high rate of injuries of all kinds, said Dr. Michael Landen, the state’s epidemiologist.

“New Mexico is a more dangerous state for most injuries,” Landen said. “We have higher rates of motor vehicle deaths and crashes than the nation as a whole.”

The state struggles with high rates of drug and alcohol abuse, which contributes to high rates of traffic accidents, Landen said. The report did not include data about substance abusers involved in cycling accidents.

A report published last year by the Mid-Region Council of Governments found that crashes involving alcohol are more likely to result in fatalities, both for pedestrians and cyclists.

Many New Mexico communities lack designated bike lanes and other street improvements that can improve biking safety, he said.

“We need more of that infrastructure to protect cyclists,” Landen said. “That costs money. Some communities are doing it, but others haven’t gotten there yet.”

Jennifer Buntz, president of the Duke City Wheelmen, a bicycling advocacy group, said better driver education and stricter enforcement of traffic laws are needed to improve bicycling safety.

Buntz served on a committee formed by the Legislature in 2013 that recommended changes to the state driver’s license manual intended to improve drivers’ understanding of bicycling and motorcycle traffic rules and to improve safety. The recommendations have not been included in the driver’s manual, she said.

A bicyclist rides down Central Avenue near the University of New Mexico. A study last year identified the Central corridor as the city's most dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

A bicyclist rides down Central Avenue near the University of New Mexico. A study last year identified the Central corridor as the city’s most dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

The recommendations called for at least 5 percent of driver’s license manual and test questions to cover pedestrian, bicycle and motorcycle awareness, as well as related traffic safety rules.

Robert J. Archuleta, director of the traffic safety division of the state Department of Transportation, said the agency plans to issue a request for proposals for an overhaul of the noncommercial driver’s license manual and driver’s license test and has budgeted $500,000 for the project.

But for now, plans to overhaul the driver’s license manual remain on hold while attorneys for the DOT and the state Motor Vehicles Department work out which agency will issue the RFP and lead the effort, he said.

Archuleta said he hopes the driver’s manual overhaul will move forward this year.

Communities can enhance cycling and traffic safety with improvements such as striping, signs and designated bike lanes, Archuleta said.

“Those engineering changes can make a big difference in the number of deaths you have in a community,” he said.

Albuquerque plans to begin construction this year on a multiuse trail connecting the Nob Hill and Uptown areas called for in Mayor Richard Berry’s “ABQ: The Plan” capital initiative. The goal is to connect the city’s existing trails and bike paths to complete a 50-mile loop around Albuquerque.

Personal behavior and better education about traffic rules also could improve bicycle safety, Archuleta said. Drivers and cyclists all need to obey the same rules, signs, traffic signals and lane markings, he said.

“Drivers need to understand that we need to share the road with bicyclists,” he said. “It needs to be a shared responsibility.”

Bicyclists can improve their chances by using proper safety equipment, the Department of Health report said.

“Bicyclists can prevent injuries and death by wearing a properly fitted helmet,” it said. State law requires children 17 and younger to wear helmets.

The report also urges cyclists to put lights on their bicycles and wear reflective clothing.

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