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Being Safe With Your Bicycle on the Road

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A bicyclist killed while out for a Sunday morning ride. A prominent local government employee injured in a bicycle accident. Another cyclist injured when he and his bike were struck not once, but twice, by two different automobiles.

As the weather begins to warm here in the Tri-State, we see an increase of stories like these. After a cold and snowy winter, motorists often need to be reminded that they share the road with cyclists once the weather improves. Unfortunately, it's often news stories such as these that serve as such a reminder.

Each year, bicyclist deaths account for 2% of all motor vehicle traffic fatalities and 2% of all people injured in traffic accidents. That 2% might not seem like much, until you're the one involved in a car-bike mashup. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) encourages both motorists and cyclists to respect the rules of the road - and to remember that a bicycle on the roadway is, by law, a vehicle with the same rights and responsibilities as motorized vehicles.

Types of Bike Accidents

Sharing the road requires that both motorists and cyclists be on the lookout for one another. Car-bike mishaps are common, but can be avoidable if you understand the ways they can happen. Here are a few of the most common vehicle-bike interactions:

  • Right Cross - This occurs when you're riding with the flow of traffic and a car pulls out in front of you - or conversely, you ride into the path of a car pulling out. Or, a car passes you on your left and then makes a right turn in front of you. Either way, the accident occurs on your right, earning it the name Right Cross.
  • Left Cross - A car makes a left turn in front of your path of travel. According to The Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Center, this accounts for almost half of car-bike crashes.
  • Crosswalk Crash - This occurs when you ride on the sidewalk and cross a street using the crosswalk, where a driver coming from either direction or making a turn can hit you, mainly because they aren't expecting to see a bicyclist in a pedestrian crosswalk. Riding on the sidewalk is twice as dangerous as riding in the street, believe it or not.
  • Open Door - A cyclist riding too close to a row of parked cars takes the risk that a driver could suddenly open a car door into his path. Injury occurs when the cyclist runs into the door or if the door knocks the cyclist into the path of oncoming traffic.
  • Rear Ender - Just like automobiles, bikes can be hit from behind, too. The causes of this type of accident can include a cyclist swerving into the path of a car in order to avoid an obstruction in the roadway or motorist inattention. While this is one of the more common fears of cyclists, it only accounts for 3.8% of collisions.

Basics of Bicycle Safety

Avoiding accidents is only half the story when it comes to bike safety. The other half includes being a prepared and conscientious rider, and taking the proper steps to protect yourself while on two wheels.

  • Wear a helmet - Accidents can and do happen, but often the difference between a little bit of road rash and a significant injury such as a brain injury can be as simple as a protective bike helmet.
  • Be visible - Visibility can be affected by such things as weather, time of day, and inattentiveness, so being visible is important. Increasing your visibility can include wearing bright or reflective clothing, using reflectors on your wheels and on the rear of your bike, and using lights on your bike.
  • Use hand signals - Since a bike doesn't come equipped with electronic signals like an automobile does, using hand signals will help alert motorists to your intentions.
  • Stay alert - You might enjoy listening to music while you ride, but the use of earbuds or headphones can keep you from being fully alert to your surroundings. The same goes for cell phones.
  • Act like a car - By law, a bicycle has the same rights and responsibilities on the road as an automobile does. This includes obeying all traffic laws, signals, and lane markings. However, some motorists may not regard a bicycle with the same condsideraton as they would another vehicle, so be cautious.
  • Ride with the traffic, not against - Because by law a bike is considered a vehicle, you must ride with the flow of traffic. Riding opposite of traffic flow is a dangerous risk to take.
  • Make sure your bike is road-worthy - This includes making sure your tires are properly inflated, your brakes work, your seat is at the proper height, and that quick-release wheels are properly secured.

Remember, bicycle safety is the responsibility of both cyclists and motorists, because we all share the road. Gerling Law actively promotes bicycle safety through the distribution of free bike helmets to kids every year. If you'd like to know more about our Great Helmet Giveaway, contact us!

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