Bicycling is hands-down one of the most eco-friendly modes of transportation, yet less than one percent of Americans ride a bicycle to work every day. While there are certainly many different factors that contribute to this decision, the one I hear repeatedly is that many cyclists just don’t feel safe sharing the road with motorists.
While it’s true that the idea of riding alongside fast-moving vehicles can be intimidating, many bicycle accidents and injuries can be prevented by understanding how motorists think and where bicycles fit into the regular pattern of traffic. By implementing a few simple bicycle safety practices, and understanding why they’re important, many bike riders may find themselves less intimidated by the automobiles around them.
Following are some of the top hazards bicycle commuters face, and suggestions for avoiding or minimizing them.
1. Getting hit from behind.
Many unseasoned cyclists fear riding on the road because they might get hit by a car from behind. However, the motorists behind you actually pose less of a threat than you might think, because they are the most likely to see you in time to avoid a collision. With that said, here are a few ideas to help you feel more secure about the vehicles behind you:
Rearview mirror. For starters, a rearview mirror is an invaluable tool for any cyclist. While it’s not usually a mandatory piece of bicycle safety equipment – in truth, many bike riders don’t use them – it’s a useful way to monitor traffic that’s approaching you from behind, so you can tell without turning around whether it’s safe to swerve to the left when attempting to avoid a car door, a patch of gravel or some other hazard ahead of you. I’ve been using either a handlebar-mounted or helmet-mounted mirror for more than 15 years, and I often rely on it.
Riding away from the curb. It may seem counterintuitive, but hugging the curb can actually increase the likelihood of getting hit from behind, instead of reducing it. On the other hand, riding a little bit to the left – leaving a buffer zone between you and the curb – makes you more visible to approaching drivers and gives you some leeway to swerve a bit if a motorist decides to cut it close.
Rear lights and reflective gear. At night, a rear light mounted on your bicycle sends an important signal to any cars behind you. Similarly, a reflective vest or even a brightly colored jacket will make you easier to spot, day or night.
2. Getting clipped by a door.
It’s not uncommon for someone in a parked car to unexpectedly open the door without looking back to see if a cyclist is approaching. Often the cyclist has no time to react, or is unable to swerve and safely avoid the door. While this type of situation can’t always be avoided, there are ways to reduce the likelihood of a collision.
An important part of defensive cycling is scanning the road ahead and trying to anticipate hazards, much in the same way a cautious driver does. When cycling next to a row of parked cars, it’s a good idea to get in the habit of watching for those that have just pulled in or that appear to have people inside – both good indicators to give the car a wider berth. At the same time, you can be keeping an eye on approaching traffic in your rearview mirror in case you need to swerve suddenly.
3. Getting hit by a turning car.
Another common cause of bicycle accidents is the motorist who makes a right turn without checking for cyclists approaching from behind. The end result is often that the car either strikes the cyclist or cuts the cyclist off so he has no choice but to hit the car. This most often happens in the following situations:
At a stoplight. Let’s say you’re stopped at a stoplight. There’s a motorist in the right lane, and you’re next to the curb. The light turns green, and you start heading straight, but the motorist doesn’t notice you and suddenly decides to turn right without signaling. One way to avoid this is to stop either just ahead of the car (so the motorist can see you) or just behind the car (so you won’t get hit if the vehicle turns).
Passing on the right. Whether you’re in a bicycle lane or simply riding closest to the curb, it’s safest to always assume motorists in the right lane might turn right at any time, into a driveway or onto another street, without checking for cyclists who may be in their blind spot or approaching from behind. Therefore, passing any vehicle on the right can be a hazardous maneuver. Instead, if you need to pass a slow-moving vehicle, it’s better to do it on the left – keep an eye on your rearview mirror and wait for an opportunity.
Many of the principles of defensive driving can also be applied to defensive cycling. By making yourself as visible as possible, monitoring the traffic around you and anticipating hazards ahead, you can take control of your safety on the road.
Sarah Henderson has been writing about road hazards and cyclist safety ever since she was knocked off her bike by an unstable road, she believes a lot more could be done to secure roads and make them much safer, Sarah recently read a very interesting article about logistics companies pulling together to support cyclist safety, you can check that out here.