Not since the late 1800s have so many bicycles been on the roads. Early on, bicycling was a trend, a novelty for the upper classes, and about as sporty as a tea party. But bikes have come a long way since then and so has bicycle safety. The recent riding resurgence has no doubt been sparked by a growing awareness of the many health, environmental, and financial benefits of riding a bike.
But while modern cyclists have traded in jaunty caps for high-tech helmets and Grand Canyon-sized potholes for smooth, paved streets, the dangers are still what they were in the good old days, which is to say significant.
With more and more cars on the road as well, it’s not always easy to know who has the right of way and who should (simply put) get out of the way. With this in mind, we put together a few quick tips for finding harmony with bikes on the increasingly crowded (and sometimes chaotic) streets.
Understand cycling laws.
Knowing how the rules of the road apply to cyclists will give you greater road-sharing confidence. Like cars, bicycles are considered proper vehicles in most cities and states. That means cyclists are required to adhere to many of the same laws as drivers. They should stop at red lights and stop signs (though some states have exclusions to the latter), and they should communicate their intentions through the use of hand signals.
Most importantly, it also means that they’re allowed use of the full lane when it’s unsafe to ride on the right side. Low shoulders, parked delivery vehicles, unsafe road conditions, and open car doors are instances in which they might be forced to use the full lane. And like any coupe or sedan, bicycles are not permitted to ride on the sidewalk.
So if you encounter a bike in your lane, be cautious and patient and understand that the rider has a right to be there and is probably navigating around a potential hazard.
Keep in mind that your car is much heavier and more powerful than a bicycle, and where you have seatbelts and airbags, cyclists only have chunks of plastic strapped to their heads! To avoid accidentally hitting someone on a bike, it’s important to brush up on a few safety tips.
Let’s start with right turns. Bike lanes are on the right side of the lane, and even if there isn’t one there, that’s where cyclists are required to ride. When making a right turn, in addition to using your turn signal, it’s essential to double-check your rearview mirror and back window before turning. Cyclists move fast and are sometimes hard to see. If you turn into their trajectory, bam! Bad news for everyone involved.
The second-most-likely time that your car might injure a cyclist is when you open your door to get out. The driver-side door swings into the part of the road where cyclists are riding and has sharp angles and a large flat surface that can cause serious injuries. A rider coming toward you may not realize you’re in the car and about to get out, so, remember to check your rear window and open your door slowly. .
Think safety (again).
ALWAYS be extra careful when passing a cyclist, and when driving at night, keep an eye out for those reflectors and blinking lights! If you have an accident with a bicycle, you should follow the same procedures that you would if you were in an accident with a car. Take a few minutes to give the cyclist your insurance information and to exchange contact info.
And share! There’s plenty of road to go around. We hope this post gives you a better understanding of why cyclists sometimes weave or dart into your path. Chances are they’re just trying to keep themselves safe. So share your lane, use caution, and remember to be patient. With nearly 3 million miles of paved roads in the U.S., there’s plenty of room for everyone.
Drive/pedal safely out there!