Bicycle Commuting: We All Share the Roads

Despite modern efforts in many communities regarding bicycle access and safety, this mode of transportation can be one of the most dangerous. Many communities have built and improved their bicycle trail systems, with more connections, and added bicycle dedicated lanes to busy commuting streets.

Communities have become more conscientious, due in large part to community bicycling advocacy groups, about getting out the word to resident motorists that with the increase in popularity of bicycling, they need to be aware and vigilant of bicycles out on the road, while also being courteous and respectful of their rights to enjoy the road.

Unfortunately, with the increase in bicycling many communities have also seen an increase in dangerous accidents involving bicyclists. That is not to say that motorists alone are to blame for bicycle accidents. Both bicyclists and motorists need to gain better understanding of the rules of the road and safe traveling.

Safety Doesn’t Stop at Helmets

Many of us are all too familiar with the friendly, persistent reminders that bicycle safety involves wearing a bicycle helmet whenever riding. However, accidents occur whether or not a rider is wearing a helmet. While the helmet may help prevent the worst of head injuries, it will not prevent the accident from occurring in the first place.

The US Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) 2012 data on bicyclist accidents gives sobering statistics. In 2012 in the United States there were 726 bicycle fatalities and 49,000 bicycle injuries in motor vehicle accident crashes (NHTSA Traffic Safety Facts on Bicyclists).  In addition to these statistics the NHTSA states that 69% of 2012’s bicyclist fatalities occurred in urban areas, the average age of those killed in such accidents was 43, and 88% were males.

In Nebraska in 2012, there were 323 crashes that were reported and 328 bicyclists injured (Nebraska Bicycle/Motor Vehicle Crashes). The Nebraska Medical Center reported alarming numbers in regards to children in its accident statistics. It stated that each year there are approximately 100 child bicycle fatalities and 254,000 child bicycle injuries (Child Bicycle Accident Statistics).

5 Tips for Staying Safe

So what can the informed bicyclist know to avoid being one of the statistics of injured or killed riders? Here are some bicycle safety tips inspired by BicycleSafe.com on how not to get hit by cars, with detailed information on how to avoid a multitude of bicycle accident types.

 

1. Those extra accessories can help.

You may consider investing in a headlight, especially an LED headlight, so that you are highly visible before the sun is up, at dusk, at night or when riding in the crosswalk (although NOT riding on the sidewalk altogether is the safer bet). A rear bicycle light can also be useful in helping others spot you.

Another suggestion is to purchase handlebar or helmet mirrors so that you can look in the mirror when approaching an intersection to also avoid the right-turning motorist intersection collision.

2. Suspicious a driver may not see you? Get their attention.

Use hand signals to communicate with those you share the road with.

Another suggestion, despite the possibility of embarrassment, is to not be afraid to wave and even yell when in doubt about whether a driver sees you. You should not refuse to slow down so that you can make eye contact with a driver or avoid collision.

3. Position yourself to be most visible. 

Perhaps surprising to some, the site suggests you ride further to the left in a bike or traffic lane, or further from the curb, so that motorists will notice you when looking out for other motor vehicles but not bicyclists.

You should never pull beside a vehicle in its blind spot when stopping for a red traffic light or stop sign. Such a position makes you extremely vulnerable to a right-turning vehicle not seeing your bicycle once he or she can proceed.

Choose wide streets as much as possible, and avoid the practice of weaving in and out of traffic lanes or the parking lane.

4. Wear bright clothing. 

Wear bright, neon clothing to help you stand out and become more visible to drivers who may not be looking out for bicyclists.

5. Practice defensive riding.

You may consider leaving phones and ear buds with music blaring out of the ride, and riding as if invisible.

Motorists: Stay Alert

If you are a motorist, please stay alert, pay attention, and be courteous. The lives of others depend on this and you will likely be prosecuted in the case of an accident in which you are at fault. Remember the old commandment to “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” …or your kids, spouse, dad, or mom.