Las Vegas Sun

July 29, 2014

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Columnist Susan Snyder: Heady days for Nevada bicyclists

Susan Snyder's column appears Mondays, Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Reach her at [email protected] or (702) 259-4082.

Last year Nevadans actually did something healthier and better than ever before.

Nearly a third of those who ride bicycles wore helmets, according to results of a study released this week by the Nevada office of Traffic Safety. The 30 percent helmet-use rate represents an 11 percent increase over last year and a 12 percent increase from 2001.

"This rise is very significant," said Bruce Mackey, the agency's bicycle-pedestrian safety education officer. "We know that properly fitted bicycle helmets can reduce serious injuries and deaths in bike crashes by at least 85 percent."

The survey was conducted in Henderson, Las Vegas, North Las Vegas and urban, unincorporated areas of Clark County in addition to Carson City, Elko, Fallon, Incline Village, Reno/Sparks and Winnemucca.

Northern Nevada riders had a higher rate of bicycle helmet use -- 34.4 percent -- and Incline Village had the highest with 64 percent.

For once, we didn't rank last in something. Fallon had the worst rate with only 2 percent of bicycle riders wearing helmets. Southern Nevada overall had a helmet-use rate of almost 28 percent, up from about 19 percent the previous year.

The increase is good, but it's not enough, Mackey said.

"My goal is to have every bicycle fatality wearing a bike helmet," he said. "When somebody dies wearing a bicycle helmet we are fairly sure they took all the physical precautions they could take."

Still, bicyclists are dying on Nevada's roads -- particularly in Clark County -- at an alarming rate.

Eight cyclists have died statewide so far this year. That's the most since 1999, in which eight riders also died. Six bicyclists died in Nevada last year, and two perished in 2001. The peak for the past 10 years was 1994, when 10 people died riding bicycles on Nevada's roads, state figures show.

Typically most, if not all, of the deaths happen in Clark County. We've logged seven of this year's deaths and all of those for each of the previous two years.

Part of the reason is we have the bulk of the state's population and the highest volumes of traffic. But aggressive driving practices, inattention by motorists and bicyclists and disobeying traffic laws are the biggest problems.

A helmet can't make people obey traffic laws.

"It's like seat belts," Mackey said. "Just because people are wearing a bike helmet doesn't make them completely safe."

He recalled the May 25 death of 61-year-old Las Vegas cyclist George Wheatin, who was struck and killed by a motorist on State Road 160 near Mountain Springs.

"In some cases -- like Wheatin -- he was doing everything right," including wearing a helmet, Mackey said.

Mackey will be in Las Vegas Saturday conducting a bicycle rodeo and giving out bicycle safety information at the Las Vegas Century and Bikefest. The Bikefest will be from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Clark County Government Center Amphitheater, 500 Grand Central Pkwy., and it's free and open to the public.

There is a fee for the bicycle rides, which feature routes of 22 to 108 miles. Registration is at 6 a.m. All levels of riders are welcome.

But don't forget your helmet.

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