Safety Tips for Drivers and Cyclists
How Cars and Bikes can Share the Road Safely
It’s happened to most of us. You’re on your way to work or the grocery store or wherever it is you go at 10am on a Tuesday (it doesn’t have to be Tuesday, this is just an example). You’re driving along and maybe you turn a corner or come to a narrow section of road and Oh! The horror! There’s a cyclist and he or she is in your lane! Where did they come from? Why are they there? What can you do about it? Are they even allowed to ride on this road?
This is an increasingly common occurrence throughout the country as more and more Americans are opting to bike instead of drive to work. Statistics pulled from National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) suggest that these encounters are becoming increasingly dangerous for both drivers and cyclists. The NHTSA specifically points out that the incident rate of automobile/ traffic related cycling deaths is on an upward trend—comprising 2.1% of all traffic fatalities as recently as 2011 (traffic data is on a 2 year lag), which is up from 1.5% in 2002. It’s a slow increase, but it’s an increase and the upward trend suggests we have a problem on our hands.
What Do My Local Cycling Laws Say?
Here’s one of the problems making this issue more complicated than it needs to be. Laws vary by state and in many places, by locality. A county, township, parish, or city might have laws that differ from the state and the federal government has left the lawmaking responsibility here entirely up to the states. The problem with this set up is that with no standard set of traffic laws for bikes, both cyclists and drivers are at a dangerous disadvantage.
We did a little research into what local cycling laws look like and we have to admit, it’s really confusing and inaccessible. It shouldn’t be this hard. We should learn cycling rules in driving school and then never forget them (in a perfect world). The best resource we found was a page at BikeLeague.org which does a remarkable job of cataloging the cycling and bike traffic laws by state in a pretty easy to use format—but we had to dig to find it. This is such a problem (and a growing public safety issue) that sites promoting public pushes for implementation and enforcement of legislation are cropping up with increasing regularity.
Each Side Perceives the Other as the Problem
I hear this all time. Drivers think cyclists are being unsafe (even where they are actually following local laws) because cyclists are driving a slower vehicle on the same road they are driving their cars. Cyclists hate that drivers don’t give them the right of way, don’t give them enough space when passing, etc. In short, both sides are wrong and this is easily attributed to lack of knowledge of traffic laws. In all fairness, my experience with cyclists is that they are generally well informed (Bikers-aka casual riders, are often ignorant of traffic laws regulating how one rides a bike on a public road). Drivers, of course, may not be as familiar.
A Quick Reference Guide for Basic Traffic Safety
As we’ve stated, the rules are different everywhere. That said, we can point to some really basic safety tips that will allow both drivers and cyclists to stay safe on the road.
- Follow the rules of the road as if you were in a car. Stop at stop signs, follow the usual right-of-way laws, and be sure to signal with hand signs your indication to turn. The less confusion there is between you and the car behind you, the safer you’ll be.
- When you have the space, let cars pass—when appropriate. If you’re in downtown city traffic and able to move at the same or higher speed as the cars around you, then don’t bother. It’ll only be a disruption.
- Make sure you’re easy to see. Don’t ride when it’s dark out if you can help it. Regardless of when you ride, wear reflective gear and keep some sort of light on your bike so that you’re visible to cars on the road.
- WEAR ALL APPLICABLE SAFETY GEAR! This means helmets, reflective gear, proper pants/bottoms (something that won’t get caught in your chain and cause you to crash).
- Treat cyclists as though they are other cars when it comes to right-of-way issues. Use headlights and turn signals to make your presence known and your intentions clear.
- Cyclists have as much right to use the road as you do. Respect them as you would any other vehicle on the road.
- Give ample space when passing, don’t follow closely, and if being followed by a cyclist, avoid sudden braking.
Car Safety Guides
Safety is one of the most important aspects of a car. We’ve written a number of car safety guides to help you stay informed and brush up on some not-so-common driving knowledge. The safer you are, the less you pay. Even if you’re a good driver, a little extra info can keep you that much safer.