“Share the road” bumper stickers abound … and as drivers, we know that it’s the right thing to do. Whether on four wheels or two, we’re all just trying to get to our destination safely. But unfortunately bike/car collisions are all too common. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there were 840 bicyclists killed in traffic crashes in the United States in 2016.
Here are 6 simple tips for how to safely drive around bicyclists, no matter how trafficky the conditions.
1. Understand that bicycles are considered street vehicles
Bicycles are considered “vehicles,” which means they have just as much right to be on the city street as cars. And they have to obey the same traffic laws … stopping at red lights, waiting their turn at stop signs, using lane-changing signals, and so forth. Given they take up far less space, bicyclist do much in the way of keeping traffic down. But bikers are also the most vulnerable vehicle on the road.
2. Be especially cautious in turning situations
Bicyclists are particularly vulnerable when you’re turning. When you turn right, they might be behind you riding straight into where you’re turning. That’s why it’s vital to always look around: use your turn signal and look over your shoulder to check your blind spot. When you’re changing lanes and see an oncoming bicyclist, let them pass first — they’re probably going a lot faster than you think.
3. Pass carefully
Many states have laws specifying that cars must allow at least three feet between them and the bike when passing. If your state law only mandates a “safe distance,” maintaining at least three feet of space is still a good rule of thumb. And the more space, the better.
4. Keep your eyes peeled for cars AND bicyclists
It’s hard to miss a car, but it’s really easy not to see a bicyclist. Especially when light is dim or it’s rainy … and, yes, bicyclists DO ride in the rain. Just as you’re extra careful around cars when visibility’s low, so should you take extra, EXTRA special note of bicyclists.
5. Know the code
The biker’s hand signals, that is. Responsible bikers will indicate where they’re going, just as your turn signal shows them. The main ones to know are:
- Left turn: the left arm is extended sideways.
- Right turn: the left arm is extended out and bent at a 90-degree angle at the elbow, with the hand pointing up.
- Stop or slow: the left or right arm is extended out and bent at a 90-degree angle at the elbow, with the hand pointing down.
6. Appreciate their vulnerability
Bicyclists are someone’s dad, mom, sister, brother, child, coworker, and friend. They’re out there getting exercise, keeping traffic under control, and doing their best for the environment — at great personal risk. When you remember that bicyclists are “people” just like you, rather than an annoyance in your way, you’re likely to take the extra few seconds to be particularly cautious.
And while it’s been said many times, it bears repeating: never text and drive. Keep your eyes on the road, make your mirrors your best friend, and you and everyone else on the road will be that much safer. Happy driving!