Bicycle Safety: A Shared Responsibility
As you work to build more bicycling in your daily routine, you should be aware of safe bicycling and driving practices. Bicycles are classified as road users in the same sense as motor vehicles and are subject to the same rules and regulations. Acting as an alert, cautious, and responsible bicyclist (or motorist) will create a safer and more comfortable environment for all road users and will provide a positive example for others.
The following tips can help improve road safety for everyone.
Safety tips for bicyclists
- Always ride with traffic and follow the rules of the road. One common misconception is to ride against traffic. While this does apply to walking on a roadway (in order to ensure that you can see oncoming cars), it is not recommended for bicyclists. When you ride with traffic, you are much more predictable and visible to motorists, especially at intersections and driveways. Try to ride in a straight line, not in and out of cars, and use hand signals when turning and stopping. Obey traffic signs, signals, and lane markings and yield to traffic when appropriate, including to pedestrians.
- Take care in choosing where to ride. Motorists are not always looking for bicyclists on the sidewalk, especially those riding against traffic. In addition, bicyclists riding on the sidewalk pose a danger to pedestrians and can be less visible to cars pulling out of driveways. As such, you may be at greater risk of being hit by a motorist than if you were riding on the road with traffic. Use your best judgment about where to ride, taking into consideration the speed and volume of traffic, the width of space to bike in, your biking speed, and the presence of driveways and turning traffic.
- Ride on the trail, paved shoulder, bike lane, or bike route. Use designated bicycle infrastructure if it is provided. Keep in mind, however, that you still need to follow the rules of the road and watch out for your fellow travelers. Ride to the right, signal your turns, and obey traffic signs and signals.
- Be predictable and visible. As a bicyclist in the roadway or on a trail, try not to do things that motorists and other travelers may not be expecting. Make sure everyone can see you and understands where you are going. If you are riding in the dark, use headlights, taillights and reflectors, and wear reflective materials and brightly colored clothing. Headlights are required by law for night riding in most places. Do not wear headphones or talk on a cell phone while bicycling.
- Watch for debris or other obstacles on the road or trail that might make you fall or swerve. Rocks, trash, storm grates, wet leaves, potholes, gravel, railroad tracks, and even wet pavement markings can all send you flying. Navigate through these areas with care and also watch for parked cars, doors opening, and cars pulling in and out of driveways. Also, be sure to maintain your bicycle, as mechanical failure on a bicycle can make you fall as well.
- Watch for turning traffic. Perhaps rather surprisingly, crash data tells us that getting hit from behind is extremely unlikely. Most car/bike collisions happen at intersections and driveways when motorists or bicyclists are turning. So, at every intersection and driveway, keep a careful eye out for:
- Motorists turning right in front of you-you may be going faster than they think.
- Motorists turning left across your path-drivers are looking for gaps in traffic and may not be paying attention to anything other than other motor vehicles.
- Stay Alert. Use both your eyes AND ears while biking. Often, the only warning that you have for a crash will be the sound, so never were headphones while biking and pay attention to what is going on around you.
Safety tips for motorists
- Watch for Bicyclists at all Times. Bicycles are vehicles and may take the entire lane in certain situations. Bicyclists are allowed to do this and must be accommodated. Be sure to scan for bicyclists in traffic and give them the appropriate right-of-way. Children and novice riders can be unpredictable, so expect the unexpected, slow down, and stay alert. Watch for bicyclists before opening car doors when parked on the street. As much for your own safety as well as for the safety of bicyclists and other road users, don't drive while distracted or after consuming alcohol or other drugs.
- Drive the Speed Limit and Avoid Aggressive Maneuvers. Some behaviors that can increase the chance of a crash are speeding and aggressive driving. Make sure to obey speed limits and come to a complete stop at stop signs. Allow extra time for bicyclists to traverse intersections. Recognize hazards that bicyclists may face and give them space to maneuver. By driving carefully and acknowledging that bicyclists are also legitimate road users, potentially dangerous conflicts can be avoided.
- Pass Bicyclists with Care. Treat bicyclists as you would a slow-moving car-don't tailgate and wait until traffic conditions allow you to safely pass the bicyclist. Reduce speed when passing bicyclists and allow at least 3 ft of passing space. Check over your shoulder after passing a bicyclist before moving back into the middle of the lane and before making a right turn. Don't blast your horn in close proximity to bicyclists.
Read about how communities across the United States are building support for bike commuting.