Fall is a great time of year to get on a bicycle for a weekend ride or even to commute to work. The weather moderates in most parts of the country and it feels good to pedal a few miles. You’ll feel like a kid again as you cruise through neighborhoods and paths.
However, as a bicyclist, I find riding for fun or commuting to work is getting a lot more nerve-wracking.
One reason is that so many of us treat the morning drive more like a car race than a pleasant drive to work. Many of those drivers are distracted and some are out-right hostile towards a person on a bicycle. I’ve had my fair share of close calls that have forced me into potholes and curbs, had things thrown at me and verbal abuse from angry drivers. I’ve also seen way too many distracted drivers either texting, toying with some form of electronic device or putting on makeup which caused them to swerve into other people’s lanes or into the bike lane – oblivious of the danger they present.
Bicyclists are very vulnerable as they circumnavigate roads and byways. In 2015, 818 were killed on US roads, an increase of 12 percent from the previous year. Government statistics show that on average, 50,000 bicyclists are injured each year.
As more people choose to ride a bike for economic or health reasons, it struck me that a little education and courtesy could go a long way to prevent auto-bike confrontations, close calls and injuries.
- Try your best to give cyclists room. Many states now require a three foot safety zone when drivers passing a bicyclist.
- It’s a good idea to slow down when you pass a cyclist (or pedestrian). Try to imagine that person is your grandmother in a wheelchair; you wouldn’t blow by throwing dust and debris at your grandmother, would you?
- Don’t honk your horn, please. Yes, we know we might be impeding you for a short distance, but honking the horn can be startling and cause a cyclist to veer into traffic or fall off their bikes. Keep in mind that most localities and states require bicyclists to ride in the street rather than the sidewalk.
- Put down the phone and other devices and concentrate on driving.
- Be aware of bicyclists. I know we can be hard to see, but how would you feel if you hit and injured one of us.
- Look before you open your vehicle’s door. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been grazed by a door or had to veer wildly around one as I cycled past a vehicle. Many bicyclists have been killed or injured by either colliding with an open door or by being pushed into traffic.
- Be extra careful when making turns or pulling out of parking lots. Cyclists may be moving faster than you think and can sometimes be hard to see.
- Always wear a helmet.
- Observe all traffic laws: never run a stop sign or red light, always ride on the right and never against traffic, and know bicycle turn signals.
- Always wear bright or reflective clothing and use lights when riding at dusk or dark.
- Don’t unnecessarily impede traffic or ride double or triple unless there is room.
- Try to avoid narrow streets, roads and high-speed expressways. Side streets and bike paths are much safer and much more pleasant to ride.
- Don’t engage or provoke an aggressive driver, instead, try to get a picture of video of the encounter and report it to authorities.
While the pleasant weather continues, I hope you get the chance to hop on your bike and take a ride, or even use it to commute to work. It will certainly help you understand how vulnerable being a bicyclist is, and maybe you’ll look at that two wheeled commuter in a different light.