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In Bay Area, Young Cyclists Are at Highest Risk

Findings are surprising in a region where daredevil adult riders are common

Brandon SorensonFor the Sorensen family of Alameda, the sound of knuckles rapping on the garage door was a familiar annoyance. It was their 13-year-old son, Brandon, who knocked on the door so frequently to put away his bicycle that his parents finally got him an access code to open the garage on his own.

“Now, I would love to get up every couple of minutes to get him,” said his father, Kurt Sorensen, a Southwest Airlines employee.

Brandon was riding his bicycle through an Alameda intersection on a rainy Monday afternoon last month when he was struck by an SUV. By chance, his mother, Tammy, came upon him lying in the street as she drove past. She held her son one last time; he died at a nearby hospital.

A Bay Citizen analysis of bicycle accident data from the California Highway Patrol found that young cyclists like Brandon are at the highest risk. The analysis shows that in the Bay Area cyclists ages 10 to 19 were involved in more traffic collisions — more than 3,200 from 2005 to 2009 — than any other age group.

Nearly half of those accidents involved boys ages 12 to 16.

In a region filled with thousands of adult cyclists, including daredevils who barrel through congested cities at high speeds, data showing that youngsters are most prone to accidents surprised even bicycle advocates. They said it showed the need for early education about traffic laws and safety.

The highway patrol compiles information about bicycle accidents from local police reports. According to the data, San Jose had 434 collisions involving teenagers, the most of any Bay Area city. Oakland was second with 193. (Go to The Bay Citizen’s Bike Accident Tracker.)

“I would have thought it would be males in their 20s” who would have the highest accident rates, said Renee Rivera, head of the East Bay Bike Coalition. “Anecdotally, I see mostly young adults cycling.”

In fact, cyclists in their 20s had the second-most collisions with motorists — about 3,100 from 2005 to 2009.

The data showed that teenagers were judged by the police to be at fault 63 percent of the time. By contrast, cyclists in their 20s were faulted in 46 percent of accidents.

The police are still investigating Brandon Sorensen’s accident, and the cause is unknown. The driver is cooperating, and no charges have been filed, according to the Alameda Police Department.

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