Nine Tips for Safe Bicycling
By Dan Sheridan
Originally Published in Marion Star April 26, 2009
Sadly, 698 U.S. bicycle riders died in 2007 in collisions with motor vehicles. 17 of these fatalities happened in Ohio.
Putting this in perspective, about 650,000 Americans die each year from heart disease and 70,000 from diabetes, diseases that bicycling can help to prevent. In other words, there's a risk involved in bicycling, but inactivity poses a much greater risk. This article will describe ways to minimize the risks of cycling, while enjoying the benefits of an active lifestyle.
Wear a helmet: I've landed on my helmet twice. Each time, the helmet did its job, and the impact felt like my head hit a pillow. The helmet cracked, but my skull was intact. 92% of the bicyclists killed in 2007 reportedly were not wearing helmets.
Be visible: When cycling, wear bright shirts or jackets that are clearly visible to cars. Bright red, orange, yellow, and green seem to be especially effective. If you must ride after dark, wear reflective clothing and use lights on your bicycle. Flashing tail lights show up very well.
Be assertive, but courteous: I use my mirror to spot cars approaching from behind. If there is no oncoming traffic, I wave the driver around me. If it's not safe to pass, I cautiously move toward the middle of the lane and hold my hand out, asking the driver to wait. Once it’s safe to pass, I move to the edge of the road and wave the driver around.
Be predictable: Good bicyclists ride in a straight line and use hand signals to signal stops or turns. Some cyclists were taught to signal right turns by bending their left arm upward at the elbow, but I think it makes more sense to point to the right.
Obey traffic laws: Bicyclists should stop at traffic lights and stop signs, just like cars and motorcycles. It’s much safer to ride in the same direction as traffic, rather than riding against the flow.
Seek quiet roads: Although bicyclists have a legal right to ride on most busy roads, I prefer quiet streets and peaceful country roads. If I must ride on a busy road, I try to ride faster on that road, so that I encounter fewer cars. I avoid riding near high schools when students are leaving, as the road will be filled with inexperienced drivers.
Don’t get “doored”: A cyclist who passes close to a parked car risks injury if a door opens unexpectedly. Give parked cars a wide berth.
Ride defensively: Use your mirrors and ears to locate approaching cars, and anticipate what those drivers might do. Make eye contact with motorists and pedestrians, and be especially alert when a motorist is talking on a cell phone.
Watch for dogs: Many cyclists worry about bites from an unfriendly dog, but friendly dogs often cause crashes by playfully running in front of bicycles. A loud, firm command stops many dogs. If I feel threatened by a dog in the road, I walk my bike, keeping the bike between me and the dog, and sometimes squirt the dog in the face with water. Some bicyclists report aggressive dogs to the county dog warden.
Sidebar: Tips for Drivers when passing Bicycles
Don’t “squeeze by” a cyclist, who may wobble as you pass.
Do move into another lane when passing a bicycle.
Don’t pass a bicycle and immediately brake and turn right. The bicycle is usually going faster than you realize.
Do wait behind a bicyclist if you are about to turn.
Don’t roll down your window and yell at a cyclist.
Do treat bicyclists with courtesy and respect.
Don’t pull out in front of a bicyclist.
Do watch for bicycles and motorcycles at intersections
Do be alert for children on bikes on city streets.
Do consider going for a bicycle ride!
Morral native Sara Spracklen Tuttle enjoys the 2008 Great Ohio Bicycle Adventure.
(Photo by Dan Sheridan)