Bicycles have the same rights and responsibilities as motorists, but are much lighter and less visible making cyclists far more vulnerable to injury. While making up only 2% of people killed in traffic accidents, bicycling is still a mode of transportation that should be approached with safety in mind. Bicycle death and injury costs the US $4 billion dollars a year. Fortunately, bicycle accidents rates have been dropping since the 90s. Between 1995 and 2011 bicycle injuries dropped by 37% and bicycle deaths dropped by 18% nation wide.
It is difficult to condemn bicycling outright because bicycling is a very healthy activity in which to engage. The death toll of heart disease and strokes, two conditions that can be brought on by lack of physical activity, dwarf the death toll of bicycle accidents. Bicycling reduces wear and tear on roads and air quality in cities. But there are many things that can be done to make bicycling as safe and beneficial an activity as possible.
Who is Most at Risk of Injury?
- Adolescents age 15-24
- Adults 45 and older
- People who live in urban areas
How to Stay Safe as a Cyclist
Helmet use does a lot to prevent bicycle fatalities. Make sure that your helmet is properly fitted whenever you ride a bicycle, as helmets do wonders to prevent head and brain injury. Laws that require wearing a helmet while bicycling, for both adults and children, have proven effective at increasing safety.
Make sure when you ride a bike to wear bright and reflective clothing, especially when riding at night. Bicycles are much more difficult to see and being as visible as possible is critical to staying safe. Be sure to outfit your bike in reflective strips and get a head and taillight for your bike. Reflective patches can be purchased at bike stores, automotive stores, and some supermarkets.
When riding a bicycle, be sure to observe the rules of the road. Ride on the proper side of the road, going the same direction as traffic. This gives cars more time to see you and react, therefore decreasing the chance of a collision. When turning do a head check, use correct hand signals and a turning lane if available. Pass cars on the right cautiously as a motorist may turn unexpectedly and without signaling. If you are riding with other bicyclists revert to single file when cars are attempting to pass.
What Motorists Can Do to Protect Cyclists
A standoff between a bicyclist and a car is not an even competition. Motorists must respect this and realize that cyclists are at a disadvantage in both size and weight. Alert cyclists by having good working headlights and by signaling when you turn. Make eye contact with bicyclists whenever possible, but especially when negotiating right of way. After parking at a curbside, double check before opening your door so that a cyclist doesn't get hit.
If there are bike lanes in your town don't obstruct them and give bicyclists riding in the lane lots of space. If there isn't a bike lane, you'll have to be extra sure to give cyclists space. If a cyclist should swerve into your lane suddenly or fall, you want to have lots of space available for that to happen so that the cyclist doesn't get hurt. Most states require motorists to leave at least two feet of space when passing a bicycle.