Share the Road Safely
This coming Friday, May 17th, is National Bike to Work Day!
Over the past decade, the number of Americans commuting by bike has grown by 47% (League of American Bicyclists). Many cities, schools, and businesses are working to make their communities bicycle friendly by adding bike lanes to roads, providing education for cyclists, and organizing incentives and events for bicycle commuters.
Bike to Work Day is one of the nation’s biggest cycling events, and is supported by the League of American Bicyclists (LAB) as well as many local cycling clubs and groups. Activities include bike safety classes and repair workshops in the days leading up to Bike to Work Day, and energizer stations providing snacks, hydration, and even free cycling gear to bike commuters on the day itself.
With more cyclists than usual hitting the road this week, it’s a great time to review bike safety laws. Here are some tips to share the road safely, whether you’ll be driving a car or riding a bike yourself!
Follow Traffic Laws
- Cyclists have the same rights and responsibilities on the road as drivers do! Cyclists must obey all traffic laws, including stopping for traffic signals and stop signs, riding with the flow of traffic, and signaling lane changes.
- Most bicycle laws instruct cyclists to ride “as far to the right as practicable.” This means that you should use the rightmost traffic lane headed in the direction you are going, or a bike lane if it is available. However, you may leave the bike lane at any time to avoid hazards or prepare for a turn. (LAB)
- Cyclists may “take the lane,” or ride in the middle of a traffic lane, for a variety of reasons including the lane being too narrow to share safely. (LAB)
- Just like other traffic laws, bicycle laws do vary from state to state. The League of American Bicyclists provides an interactive map to review the highlights of each state’s rules.
- Stay out of the “door zone” of parked cars, where you could easily be hit by an opening car door. Usually this means riding 3 to 5 feet away from parked cars, which may require avoiding the rightmost part of the bike lane. (SF.StreetsBlog.org)
- Watch for debris, obstructions, or poor road conditions that could make your path unsafe. If you need to move into traffic to avoid hazards in the bike lane, signal first.
- Watch for right-turning cars, and avoid taking a path that will put you on the right side of a right-turn-only lane - instead, signal and then move into a traffic lane going in your direction.
- When riding in darkness, most states require that bicycles have a white headlight and a red rear reflector, plus pedal and wheel reflectors. The League of American Cyclists recommends also using a red rear light. (LAB)
- Wear bright or reflective clothing any time you ride.
- Ride where motorists can see you. Ride in a straight line, and do not swerve in and out of parked cars on the side of the road. While some cities allow cyclists to ride on sidewalks, be aware that motorists may not be able to see you.
Wear a Helmet
- Wearing a helmet is crucial to staying safe on the road. The League of American Bicyclists recommends wearing a helmet for any bike ride, no matter how short.
- The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute estimates that bike helmet use reduces head injury risk by 85%.
- According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 67% of cyclists killed in 2011 were not wearing helmets (IIHS).
- No state has a universal helmet law, but some have mandatory helmet laws covering young riders. Some cities and counties have also passed their own helmet laws, so be sure to check your local requirements before you ride!
- Want to learn tips for bike commuting, bicycle maintenance, and beginning or advanced riding? The League of American Cyclists provides guides to these topics online. You can also search for League-certified workshops, classes, and riding groups in your area.
- Check out your local cycling groups or clubs for other available classes!
Bicycles are Vehicles, Too!
- Be aware that cyclists have the same rights and responsibilities on the road as you do, and must follow the same traffic laws.
- Recognize cyclists’ rights to ride in the middle of a traffic lane, and to change lanes to prepare for turns.
- At intersections, follow the same right-of-way rules for cyclists as you would for other cars. If you would yield to a car, yield to the cyclist!
Watch for Cyclists
- Cyclists are smaller and harder to see than cars are. Be on the lookout!
- When parked on a street, check your mirrors and look behind you before opening your car door. 45 states already have laws against “dooring” or opening your door into an oncoming cyclist. (Cyclelicious)
- Look for oncoming cyclists when preparing to make a left turn. It may be difficult to judge the speed they are going, so when in doubt, wait until they pass before turning.
- Watch for cyclists when preparing to make a right turn, whether or not you must cross or enter a bicycle lane to make the turn.
- Just like motorists, cyclists should follow traffic laws and safe driving practices - but may not always do so. Watch for cyclists riding on sidewalks, in crosswalks, or weaving in and out between cars.
Give Cyclists Room
- Cyclists are much more vulnerable than cars, so be certain to leave a safety buffer of at least three feet between you and a cyclist. 19 states have already passed a law mandating a three-foot buffer, and Pennsylvania requires a four-foot buffer. (3FeetPlease.com)
- Always make sure that you can see far enough down the road before safely moving into the left lane to pass a cyclist - passing is not worth a head-on collision.
- On winding roads, this may mean you’ll need to wait until passing is safe. Be sure to leave plenty of room between you and the cyclist while you are driving behind them. The cyclist may “take the lane” while they know it will not be safe for you to pass them, for example if there is a blind turn or they can see oncoming traffic in the opposite lane, and then move towards the right side of the lane to allow you to pass once the road is clear.
- Do not speed up to overtake and make a right turn in front of a cyclist. If you see a cyclist on the right side of the road as you are preparing for a right turn, slow down and allow them to clear the intersection before making your right turn.
Want to participate in Bike to Work Day, or organize your own event? Check out the League of American Bicyclists’ resources for Bike Month 2013!
As the weather warms up, you’ll encounter more cyclists on the road, and maybe even want to join in! Keep these tips in mind, and you’ll be well prepared to enjoy your journey.