News & Events

Taking Action Against Distraction


Tufts MC Trauma Prevention Team aims to decrease distracted biking, enhance bike safety in Boston

Remember when your mother used to nag you to wear a helmet for safety when you rode your bike? She didn’t even know the half of it.

“Today, cyclists often use ear buds or headphones, talk or text on cell phones and generally fail to pay attention while biking,” said Injury Prevention Coordinator Beth Wolfe, CAGS, ATC. “These distracted bikers are putting themselves and others at unnecessary risk for injury or death.”

It is not a coincidence that the number of bike fatalities in the news seemingly has increased significantly over the past couple of years, as has the number of bicycle related traumas treated in the Emergency Department (ED). However, while there has been a growing national movement to combat distracted driving and the injuries and deaths that result from people failing to focus on the road, much less attention has been paid to the same issues affecting bikers.

Studies Show Citywide Problem

In response to this worsening problem, members of Tufts MC’s Division of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery conducted a pair of observational studies on distracted biking behaviors and bicyclist safety behaviors, to determine the causes of these incidents and to understand precautions taken by bicyclists to keep themselves safe. The researchers found that an incredible 31 percent of Boston cyclists were biking distracted. As a result, the team, which includes Trauma Research and Data Quality Manager Sandy Arabian, CSTR, CAISS; Wolfe; Chief of the Trauma and Acute Care Surgery Reuven Rabinovici, MD; and Orthopaedic Surgeon Matthew Salzler, MD, has made it their goal to promote and encourage bike safety in the City of Boston.

“As Boston undertakes new initiatives to encourage biking and become a more bike-friendly city, bike safety is becoming increasingly important,” said Wolfe. “Yet many of these bikers are not fully focused on the road. Biking is a terrific, healthy, pollution-free activity that we absolutely encourage—we just want people to do it safely.”

Teaming Up to Reduce Accidents

In the Fall of 2014, the Trauma Prevention Team partnered with the Boston Police Department (BPD) as their research partner in Vision Zero, a global road traffic safety initiative. Tufts MC uses data from its trauma registry and ED statistics to compile and supply valuable injury information to BPD. This data supports BPD grants for funding Vision Zero initiatives to upgrade infrastructure for vulnerable road users and pinpoint where and when accidents are occurring.

“If we can determine the locations around the city where the most serious bike accidents are taking place, and understand why they are happening, then preventive measure can be put into place,” said Arabian. “Whether it’s an increased police presence during high-traffic hours, additional bike lanes, signage or education initiatives, the data our team provides to BPD is vital to successfully addressing the problem and ultimately saving lives.”

Bike Safety: Do’s & Don’ts


  • Wear safety gear, including helmet and bright colored clothing
  • Use reflectors and lights when riding at night or on a cloudy day; by law this is the bicyclists’ responsibility!
  • Have a bell to give pedestrians and other road users warning when you are passing or making a turn
  • Take your time and give yourself space between other bicyclists and vehicles. If you do not feel safe in the bike lane or are fearful of car doors opening, you DO have the right to ride in the road (motorists need to be aware that BY LAW they MUST share the road)


  • Ride while talking or texting
  • Carry bags, drinks, food or other items while riding (if you must, put them in a basket and not on your handlebars)
  • Ride with ear buds, bluetooth or headphones on
  • Assume another car or vehicle knows you are on the road

Bike Safety/Distracted Biking Facts & Figures

Tufts MC’s Trauma Prevention Team observed more than 3,600 bicyclists during the summer of 2014

  • Nearly one-third of the bicyclists observed were distracted (ear buds, headphones, cell phones, etc.)
  • 74 percent of bicyclists wore a helmet
  • 39 percent of personal bikers obeyed the state laws of having lights and reflectors at night
  • The majority of Boston bicyclists do obey the road laws (87 percent), give pedestrians the right of way (99 percent) and ride in bike lanes (95 percent)