Jeffry Kashuk

Biking is an extremely popular activity in Colorado and is typically thought of as being good for one’s health. However, results from a recent study at University of Colorado Denver’s School of Medicine were shocking: cyclists are facing higher risks of serious injury and longer hospital stays at an increasing rate over the past 12 years. The data found that even though there are more injury prevention programs in place today, riders are not safer, and they are not necessarily wearing their helmets or paying more attention to the road.

Jeffry Kashuk, MD, associate professor of surgery at the CU Denver School of Medicine, and Zach Hartman, a third-year medical student, first became interested in creating a study on cycling injuries for a number of reasons: personal (Hartman is an avid cyclist); professional (Kashuk is involved with the American Association for Surgery of Trauma’s injury prevention committee); general curiosity (colleagues were always talking about the amount of “close calls” they experienced riding to and from work); all combined with today’s high interest in being fit, environmentally friendly and economical.

Data was collected from 329 bike injuries occurring from 1995 through 2006 at Denver Health Medical Center’s Rocky Mountain Regional Trauma Center. Approximately 30 percent of injuries were head injuries. A 15 percent increase in chest injuries was found and abdominal injuries tripled over the past five years. The injury severity score increased in the last six years and the amount of time patients spent in the ICU increased as well. All of this suggests that even if injuries are increasing because there are more riders, the severity is still greater.

“These results were stunning but we must remember that this is only a single center study,” said Kashuk. “Our findings and data need to be verified by a larger, multi-centered national study.”

Hartman took a map of Denver’s bike trails (more than 400 bike paths) and mapped out where all of the injuries occurred. He discovered that the major concentration of collisions took place in the downtown urban areas and the majority of riders were older males, suggesting a greater frequency of urban commuters opposed to recreational riders. (Paths are good for recreation but are less help for those wanting to commute to work.)

“My interest in bicycle research comes from a desire to improve the health and safety of our communities,” said Hartman. “This research is one example of how the students and faculty of the University of Colorado Denver work hard to serve the communities of Colorado and beyond.”

The researchers hope that this data will be helpful to urban planners and on state and federal levels.

“America’s an automobile culture, unlike Europe and the Far East,” said Kashuk. “As we return to more environmentally friendly transportation, we must invest in infrastructure in order to improve safety – we need to rethink how we invest in infrastructure.” Kashuk believes that interest needs to be on a national level and they need to generate more robust data to get local, state and federal officials to look at the issue more closely and make cities more bike friendly.

“But really, if we can impact even one person in terms of safety and save one life, then all of this work is worth it,” said Kashuk.

Statistical analysis was done by Angela Sauaia, MD, PhD, associate professor at CU Denver School of Medicine, who identified the trends.

The Reuters article can be found here: Bicycle injuries in U.S. becoming more severe.