More and more Americans are using bicycles in their everyday lives – nationally, there was a 64% increase in people using bicycles to commute to work from 2000 to 2012 alone. With more cyclists on the road but not necessarily more dedicated cycling space on urban roadways, it is no wonder that crashes involving cyclists are on the rise. And as you might expect, when a crash occurs between a vehicle and a bicycle, it is most likely the bicyclist who gets hurt.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, bicyclists accounted for two percent of all traffic deaths and two percent of all crash-related injuries in 2014. Crashes involving bicyclists are more likely to occur in urban areas between the hours of 6:00 PM and 9:00 PM. The overwhelming majority of bicyclist deaths involved males (88%) between the ages of 20 and 24. Also on the rise, is the number of bicycle-related crashes where the cyclist had a Blood Alcohol Level higher than the national legal limit (21%). It is important to remember that when on the road, a bicycle is a vehicle like any other and cyclists need to adhere to the rules of the road just like drivers do.
Also, drivers and cyclists alike need to learn to share the road and look out for one another. May is designated as National Bike Safety Month. In an effort to reduce the number of bicycle-related crashes, especially fatal crashes, we’ve compiled a list of the most common bicycle accidents and tips on how to avoid them.
The Intersection Junction: This is the most common type of bicycle collision. A car is pulling into an intersection, and the bicyclist is either in front of the car, and the car hits it, or the car pulls out too quickly (trying to speed past the bicycle) and the cyclist cannot slow down in time and slams into the car. To avoid these types of collisions:
1. use a bike headlight (especially at night) to ensure that drivers can see you approaching
2. slow down when approaching intersections, parking lots, or driveways so that you can easily come to a full stop
3. try and get a driver’s attention by waving, signaling, or sounding a bell if you feel that the driver does not see you approaching
4. ride further left so drivers are more likely to see you
The Open Door: While it may seem silly – and has certainly been portrayed that way on television, in movies, and in sketch comedy shows – cyclists who can’t slow down and crash into open car doors ahead of them happens more often than you think and leads to several cyclist deaths every year. To avoid this type of collision, ride to the left in a bike lane. This will allow you more space to avoid swinging car doors.
The Crosswalk Collision: These crashes involve bicyclists who are riding on the sidewalk and crossing from one side of the street to the other at the crosswalk. Vehicles making a right-hand turn into the crosswalk don’t see them and slam into them. To avoid this type of collision:
1. don’t ride on the sidewalk
2. slow down so that you can easily come to a complete stop
3. use a headlight to ensure that oncoming traffic can see you
The Wrong-Way Wreck: Cyclists who ride the wrong way (against traffic or on the left-hand side of the road) are more susceptible to these kinds of collisions because vehicles making right-hand turns do not look right when making the turn. Since they don’t expect oncoming traffic from that direction, vehicles coming straight at you are often startled and take evasive action (such as excessive swerving). Nearly ¼ of all bicycle accidents occurred because the cyclist was riding the wrong way. To avoid these types of crashes, always ride with the traffic. Not only is it illegal to ride against the traffic, it is also dangerous – nearly three times higher than riding with the traffic. Vehicles making turns cannot see you and vehicles approaching you head on are doing so at a higher speed than those approaching you from behind.
The Red Light Blind spot: A vehicle already stopped at a red light may not see a bicycle that pulls up on its right-hand side. When the light turns green, the car may decide to make a right-hand turn, slamming into the bicycle. To avoid these types of crashes, do not stop in the blind spot. Stop behind a car, which makes you more aware of traffic on all sides and gives the vehicle ahead of you the right of way when the light turns green. If approaching cars at a red light, stop between the cars ensuring enough space so that the car ahead won’t turn into you and that the car behind you notices that you’re there.
The Impatient Passer: In this scenario, both the motorist and the cyclist can be the impatient passer. When the motorist is the impatient passer, they speed past the cyclist to pass them on the road and, misjudging how fast the bicycle is going, either turn in front of the bike or into the bike or try to make a quick left-hand turn and crash into the bicyclist. These types of crashes are the hardest to avoid because you don’t see them coming and motorists don’t think they are at fault. When the cyclist is the impatient passer, they try and pass a slow-moving vehicle on the right, and the car makes a right-hand turn, crashing into the bike. To avoid these types of collisions,
1. don’t ride on the sidewalk, which makes you invisible to motorists
2. ride far to the left of the lane
wear something bright so that motorists see you
3. use a handlebar or helmet mirror and check it well before entering an intersection
4. do not pass vehicles or other cyclists on the right – they cannot see you.
The Rear-End Runaround: Rear-end collisions are what cyclists fear the most, even though they are the least common type of crashes, comprising less than 4% of all crashes. However, it’s one of the hardest crashes to avoid since cyclists cannot see behind them. To avoid these types of collisions:
1. get a blinking rear light – 60% of all Florida bike crashes occur at night with cyclists who don’t have bike lights
2. wear reflective clothing
3. ride on wide, slow, or less-traveled streets
4. use a bike mirror
5. don’t hug the curb – give yourself some space in case you need to swerve out of the way quickly,
6. look left before trying to pass cars and cyclists
7. use hand signals when making directional changes
8. do not swerve in between cars or between parking lanes, bike lanes, and traffic lanes
Extra safety precautions are easy to make habits and could save you from injury. Enjoy your next ride and be safe!