There are few things that can make a cyclist feel less comfortable than sharing the road with belligerent 1,500 metal beasts wearing only a plastic helmet, but lots of them do it every day. Whether commuting or just riding for pleasure, navigating busy streets presents plenty of dangers.
Of course it would be just great if cars were constantly on the lookout for cyclists, but that’s just not the case. Bicyclists shouldn’t rely on drivers or fast reaction times to keep them safe, instead they should take precautions to proactively protect themselves on the road. To that end, here’s a list of simple recommendations (beyond a helmet and “follow the law”) that will help you avoid collisions with cars:
- Stay to the left. That’s right, it’s safer to ride closer to the cars! After all, if you’re in their way, they can see you. Cars hitting cyclists while pulling out of a side street or alley is one of the most common collision profiles. Allowing a little more space for reaction time (both yours and the drivers), and traveling further in the car lane so that you are in a position where drivers will be looking for cars, is important. The same principle applies to avoiding drivers who fail to yield and turn right directly in front of you. Riding a little farther to the left might cause drivers to honk a bit more, but at least it will keep you from plowing into the side of a turning Chevy. Keeping to the left can also prevent you from flying into an opened car door of a parked car. There are instances in which bike lanes will help you avoid this scenario, but it’s best to just stay away from the risk in the first place.
- Don’t ride on the sidewalk. Again, it’s worth stressing that it’s important to only ride your bike in areas where drivers are looking for things not to hit. Generally, that means riding where cars are looking for other cars, ie- not on the sidewalk. Although the sidewalk is where cyclists are king (out of my way, pedestrian!) crossing a crosswalk at cycling speed is a risky proposition. When cars turn at an intersection, it is unlikely to account for you if you’re going 20mph in a crosswalk-no one runs that fast! If they aren’t looking for you, they might hit you. However if you must ride on the sidewalk for whatever reason, make sure to slow down before going across a crosswalk, and be sure to make eye contact with drivers before doing so.
- Ride on the right side of the road. There’s a certain appeal to seeing cars moving toward you, rather than having them out of sight behind you. But doing so confuses those oncoming drivers, especially the ones turning right and pulling out into the road. Those drivers are watching for cars zooming from their left, not cyclists pedaling from the right. Riding on the left side of the road is an excellent way to implant yourself in an oncoming windshield.
- Look before moving left. A number of accidents each year occur when a dead squirrel (or, more likely, a branch) pops up in a cyclist’s path, forcing him or her to veer left and into a trailing car. It’s much better just to slam on the breaks or fly up on to the sidewalk rather than risk a run-in with a car. There’s also a danger of this type of collision occurring when a cyclist uses a parked lane as a bike line. Seems safe enough until there’s a parked car in the way and the biker is forced into uncomfortable proximity to a vehicle approaching from behind.
- Wear flashy clothes. This isn’t fashion advice, just some thoughts that can save your life. Especially in winter, when there is less daylight, it’s vital for cyclists to gear up: a reflective jacket or vest, reflective wheel guards, headlights and rear lights, front and rear lights, reflective wheel guards and coats, basically anything that makes you easier. It may not be the coolest look, but it will keep you from looking (and feeling) much worse.
The big theme is to bike in a way that makes you predictable and visible to vehicles. Believe it or not, cars don’t want to hit you, so if they can see you, and know what you mean to do, you’ll be much safer. Follow these steps. They may not lead to the coolest, or most expedient, ride, but remember: safety first!
Beckley Mason writes a street safety blog for GJEL Accident Attorneys in the Bay Area, California.
If you have been involved in a bicycle accident in the greater Seattle area, please contact the Bellevue bicycle accident attorneys at The Farber Law Group.