Oct 282011

Did anyone promise you driving would be 100% problem-free when you were going through driver’s ed? Nope. They told you that the skills they were teaching you would help make you a safer driver, that’s all. Life, slippery streets, and inattentive people with cellphones abound whether you or they are moving around on two wheels, four wheels, or feet.

You drive anyway despite all the well-documented risks, don’t you? (Probably walk, too, and pedestrian injury/incident rates are nothing to sneeze at.)

(Side note: My darling Second Daughter finished driver’s ed this summer and we now have to rack up all those hours in the car before she can take the driver’s test so I have to look for excuses to drive–ugh. She biked to driver’s ed class. House Irony, that’s us.)

Those driver’s ed instructors might have added that we can’t completely get rid of the idiots on the streets so that’s why we all need to stay alert and follow the rules.

Looking at statistics on bike-related injuries, it’s quite clear that a critical piece of equipment is the major cause in many collisions: The nut that connects the handlebars to the seat.

Before you go look at your bike and try to figure out where that is, take a long hard look in the mirror. You’re the nut.

Operator error creates problems for new bike commuters the same way it does for new drivers. That’s why you need to do some homework, take some practice rides, and know the rules of the road.

Much of what you worry about can be prevented if you ride predictably and visibly and follow rules of the road so drivers know where you are and what to expect. 

The League of American Bicyclists provides a good page on the basics of riding safely. A brief recap:
  • Follow the rules of the road! You are a vehicle. Ride in the same direction as traffic, not against it; obey traffic signs and lights; and signal your intentions.
  • Be visible. Your riding behavior is key here–ride where drivers can see you. Have adequate lighting (white on front, red in back), especially important now that dusk falls earlier and the sun seems to be oversleeping a bit in the morning.
  • Be predictable. Ride in a straight line; don’t duck in and out of “safer” spaces adjacent to the street like empty curbside parking spots and sidewalks.
  • Anticipate conflicts. Be mindful of your surroundings and choose positions that reduce conflicts. I watched my friend Rider #1 tuck himself between a car and the curb at an intersection where that driver may have been planning to turn right–the perfect recipe for a right-hook collision that would have been created by the rider, not the driver.
  • Wear a helmet. No, it doesn’t prevent collisions. What it prevents is a higher rate of head injuries if you’re involved in a collision. You only have one brain. And in the city of Spokane, it’s the law. Check your local ordinances.

The good news: Both cyclist and pedestrian injury and death rates have been falling, according to data tracked by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Stay safe out there!

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Your Turn
  • Do you follow these recommendations when you ride?
  • If you have kids, have you taught them bicycle safety rules and do you model good behavior when you ride with them?
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