You are much less likely to be injured or killed while riding your bike to the store on a safe cycleway than driving in a car. Deaths between cyclists, even in The Netherlands or Denmark, is extremely low. This is a key reason that we in the U.S. are about four times as likely to die in a transportation related crash as someone in northern Europe.
Even riding a bike in traffic lanes on roads without appropriate cycleways appears only slightly more dangerous than driving on these same roads in a car. Statistics indicate that cyclists on roads in the U.S. are about twice as likely to be injured or killed as people in cars, but when you dig in to these statistics you find that the majority of these are cases where the cyclist was at fault, usually for doing something quite stupid such as unexpectedly darting in to the path of a vehicle when the vehicle had the right-of-way.
In short, riding on cycleways such as a multi-use path alongside a road, is safer than driving in a car. Riding on roadways, safely, is about the same or slightly more dangerous.
I’ve ridden thousands of miles, the vast majority in the NE Metro. Drivers are, overall, very aware of people on bikes and very courteous. Last year I mounted a GoPro video camera under my seat to collect some statistics. About 99% of drivers do exactly as they should, they move over when they pass, they don’t pass when they’re about to make a right turn, etc. Only about 1 in 120 drivers didn’t do the right thing. AND, teens are among the safest.
Actual Safety vs Perceived Safety
In his blog A View From The Cycle Path, David Hembrow makes some great points about perceived safety vs actual safety.
Actual safety is reality. It is the actual likelihood of being injured.
Perceived safety is how safe we feel. How comfortable we are from a safety standpoint.
A great example might be riding your bike along the right edge of the right traffic lane on Centerville Road with gobs of cars passing you at 60 mph. This feels quite uncomfortable and unsafe. Statistically though, it is actually not very dangerous. Incidences of being hit by cars approaching from the rear are extremely low. But it still feels unsafe.
No matter what the statistics say, I still very strongly prefer cycleways that are as physically segregated as possible from auto traffic. Even if I’m only marginally safer in reality, I feel much safer and more comfortable and that makes for a much more pleasant and desirable experience.