Cycling is a wonderful form of transportation. It’s healthy, environmentally conscious, and much more affordable than driving. It also makes you feel more ingrained in your community than driving does, which is an excellent way to build a more personal connection to your city.
Unfortunately, if you’re a cyclist in America, you’re usually an afterthought. For the most part, our country is designed with one mode of transportation in mind: cars. While some cities have separated bike lanes, you’ll often be forced to share a road built for cars. This can be dangerous. Nearly 1,000 cyclists die and over 130,000 are injured in crashes on roads each year.
If you’re a cyclist, this tragic loss of life each year should not be your sole responsibility. Unfortunately, motorists have a tendency to focus their attention on other cars. Until our cities improve infrastructure for cyclists, being extra careful as a cyclist might save your life.
If you or a loved one has been permanently or catastrophically injured by a car while cycling, contact the office of Maples, Nix, and Diesselhorst for a free consultation. If we are able to work together, we promise to stand with you and pursue justice.
- Wear a helmet
Let’s start with an obvious tip: wear your helmet. This one may seem like it goes without saying, but unfortunately, it’s still shockingly uncommon. Over half of adults who cycle in the U.S. report never wearing a helmet, and half of the cyclists killed in crashes in 2016 weren’t wearing one. Head injuries are the leading cause of cyclist deaths, so it is absolutely essential to wear one at all times on a bicycle, especially when cycling through streets shared with cars.
- Use hand signals
Turns signals aren’t just for cars! Using hand signals can help cars and other cyclists anticipate your movements, which can prevent accidents. Even just knowing the symbols for turning and stopping is helpful. Not every motorist will know the signals, but by using them, you’ll not only help yourself stay safe, but also help educate others to recognize them in the future.
- Stay off sidewalks
This can be a tough rule to follow. Sidewalks often feel like safer spaces to cycle than streets built for cars. After all, a collision with a pedestrian will do far less damage than one with a car. However, it’s important to respect the space given to pedestrians, even if a similar one isn’t provided for cyclists. Sidewalks are narrower than streets, and when they get crowded with pedestrians, bicycles can put them in danger. Sidewalks are also more likely than city streets to have uneven pavement, which can cause you to lose control more easily.
- Use proper equipment when riding at night
Being noticed by cars is always a struggle as a cyclist, but night driving presents its own set of dangerous challenges. While some studies show that only 11% of cycling takes place at night, over 30% of crashes take place after dark.
The best way to help establish yourself when night cycling is to make sure you’re using both lights and reflective equipment. Either a head lamp or a light that attaches to the front of your bicycle should do the trick for your front side, but put a light on that back of your bike too. It’s also important to wear reflective clothing in addition to having reflective pieces on your bike itself. The wheels are a good choice since the movement is more noticeable.
- Make sure your bike is fit for use
When you ensure that your bike is in good condition and is fitted for your body size, you can help prevent injury. Having highly responsive breaks can save your life, and making sure your tires are fully inflated and free from damage can help you maintain control in sticky situations.
Making sure your bike is outfitted for your body type can prevent injury even when no collisions occur. If you cycle often, poor posture from a misaligned bicycle can cause back pain and other unpleasant side effects. You want to be sure your seat is at a proper height and your legs are at healthy angles. A professional at a bike shop can help you alter it.
- Don’t do anything you wouldn’t do in a car
Bicycles are far nimbler than cars. In dense traffic, you could potentially weave in and out of cars, split lanes, or ignore traffic signals. However, a good rule of thumb is to never do anything that wouldn’t be possible or legal in a car. The road is built for cars, after all, so this is the best way to respect motorists and keep yourself safe. It’s also worth noting that the rules for cycling on roads are the same as driving, so you’re also avoiding potential tickets and fines.
- When you have access to bike lanes, use them!
Bike lanes are still woefully infrequent and underfunded in the majority of U.S. cities, but they do exist to some degree in most places. If you find yourself in the vicinity of a bike lane, always use it. Fully separated lanes are by far the safest, but some cities have dedicated bike lanes alongside major streets, and even if they aren’t protected, they’re better than nothing.
Using available bike lanes serves two important purposes. The first is protecting your safety. Cars are more likely to notice you and respect your presence when you are using the space allotted to you. However, the second purpose is arguably just as important. When people use bike lanes regularly in cities, local governments invest more into them. If you want more safe bike lanes in your city, use the ones you have and encourage others to do so.
If you get injured, we’re here to help
While cycling should be a healthy, sustainable, and enjoyable way to get around your city, the overwhelmingly car-centric infrastructure in most American cities makes it difficult. We hope these tips help keep you safe on the road. You deserve to be able to cycle in peace. However, accidents do still happen, and lawsuits have the power to bring justice to individuals and encourage better behavior from motorists.
If you or a loved one has been permanently or catastrophically injured by a car while cycling, contact the office of Maples, Nix, and Diesselhorst for a free consultation.