Bicycle sales are on the rise, and have been for quite some time. According to the Guardian, bike sales have outpaced auto sales since 2000, and the trend shows no sign of slowing. But while bicycles continue to increase their presence on roads and trails across the globe, our safety standards have failed to keep pace.
Transport-related deaths involving cyclists have recently risen 42% in Australia, with pedestrians and cyclists making up 15% of all highway fatalities in America. With transportation-related fatalities on the decline as a whole, these bicycle safety statistics signal a clear need for increased awareness and updated cycling safety gear, procedures, and infrastructure.
Police records indicate that 87% of cycling accidents involving a car are the motorist’s fault, according to a 2010 study by Monash University in Australia.
While bicycle lanes are becoming increasingly common in most parts of Europe, there remains a surprising lack throughout America, Australia, and many other cycle-centric countries. Because bicycles are legally recognized as vehicles, they retain the same rights as automobiles. This means that the roads must be shared equally—bicycle lane or no.
Motorists should take extra caution when changing lanes or passing through intersections, as these two situations make up 40.7% and 70.3% of all bicycle-related incidents, respectively. A 2013 California law requires three feet of clearance when passing a bicycle; motorists everywhere should apply the three-feet rule to all situations. Never overtake a cyclist between lanes or tailgate riders travelling slower than the surrounding traffic.
While motorists work to improve their awareness of cyclists, it’s just as important for cyclists to be aware of—and to practice—the safest way to ride. Here are eleven important bike safety tips for all cyclists to remember.
In 1991, Australia became the first country to make helmets compulsory. Helmets have been shown to reduce the risk of head injuries by 63–88%, and not wearing a helmet was identified by the Office of Road Safety (ORS) in Western Australia as the second leading factor of death or serious injury in cycling accidents.
Before riding anywhere, always double-check your tire pressure, brake levers, saddle height, and handle bars for tightness. These checks should be performed in greater detail on a weekly, monthly, and annual basis. Refer to this checklist for a detailed bike safety routine.
Always wear a reflective vest at night and avoid wearing dark colors, even in the daytime. Most crashes occur between 6 and 9 in the morning and 3 and 6 in the afternoon, when the light is most dim but traffic is at its heaviest. Applying reflective tape to your shoes is another way to further improve the visibility of your Revolights-enhanced bike.
Plan your route before you ride. Take note of existing bike paths and avoid busy roads (note that riding on freeways is illegal). Life is not a destination, but a journey, and cycling should be savored. Don’t rush it—plan the safest route, not the fastest.
Personal identification is crucial in the event of an accident. Keep your ID safe in a sealable bag along with a small amount of cash for unexpected emergencies (a $5 bill can also be used to patch a tire in an emergency). Be sure to specify an emergency contact on your phone.
Just because you can see a car doesn’t mean the driver can see you. Ride defensively and always assume you haven’t been seen. Whenever possible, make eye contact with motorists (particularly with heavy vehicles) when changing lanes or at intersections.
Be mindful when maneuvering from a footpath or leaving a driveway and heading into traffic—even when you don’t think there is traffic around you. This was ORS’s leading cause of death or serious injury to cyclists.
Cyclists should always ride several feet clear of parked cars, slow significantly when riding closer than three feet, and watch for brake lights to be aware of parking cars. Motorists should check over their shoulder for cyclists before opening their doors, and double check their side mirrors, especially when parking next to a bicycle lane. This video offers further tips on door safety.
Bike tires have far less surface area than cars or motorcycles and can be more difficult to maintain when loss of traction occurs. Braking is also far less effective in the wet. Remember that any painted lane lines or road markings are like oil slicks when wet.
Large vehicles can create a vortex capable of pulling a cyclist onto the road—or even under the vehicle. Always pull over and wait for large vehicles to pass, leaving several yards between yourself and the road. Wearing headphones or listening to loud music is never recommended, but is especially dangerous on rural roads.
If you have any questions regarding cyclists’ stance according to the law, refer to this handy guide to bike laws by state.
While bicycle safety infrastructure catches up to the ever-growing number of cyclists, there are a number of ways drivers can make the roads safer. Here are six bike safety rules that all motorists should follow at all times.
Bike lanes are becoming increasingly common in many metropolitan areas throughout the world. These lanes appear on the passenger-side shoulder of the road and are marked at beginning and end with clear signs. Respect these lanes as reserved for cyclists, and do not drift in and out of them.
As most cyclists don’t have turn indicators (Revolights is working to change this), hand signals are required when turning or stopping. An arm out indicates a turn in that direction, an arm up means a turn in the opposite direction, and an arm down signals a stop or slow. Be aware of what these signs mean, and watch for hand signals when driving around cyclists.
Cyclists can ride two abreast, often within a few feet of one another. When overtaking, treat cyclists or a group of cyclists just as you would a car—change lanes completely and carefully. Watch for narrow points in the road, especially next to parked cars and over bridges. Leave even more distance between you and a cyclist at these points. Or, better yet, wait for an unobstructed path.
While certainly a safety requirement, it is also common courtesy to give cyclists an ample amount of personal space. There’s nothing more dangerous and frightening to a rider than having a motorist breathing down his or her neck.
Cycling (and driving) at night presents an increased need for safety. Although Revolights increase bike visibility dramatically (and while cyclists are required by law to have a white light up front and a red at the rear), riders still may not be as visible as a car’s headlights and taillights. Take extra caution by scanning the entire road at all times, especially while changing lanes or driving through intersections.
Cycling on the road for the first time can be an intimidating prospect. Give an extra few feet to young cyclists or to anyone who appears less confident or unaware of the rules of the road. A bit of patience could save a life.
Teaching your child how to ride a bicycle can be harder than learning yourself. The following eight tips are crucial in ensuring bicycle safety for children.
Start with “Look both ways before crossing the street!”
Be sure your child’s helmet meets current US safety standards.
Talk about traffic rules while driving or riding with your child.
Increased visibility means increased safety, in daylight or dark.
Stick to bike paths and avoid heavy traffic and crowded intersections.
Check age and weight restrictions at least annually.
Show them how to properly adjust the chin strap and wear a helmet correctly.
Do this in front of your child so he or she can learn.
With increased knowledge and awareness, the roads can become a much safer place for cyclists and motorists alike. Here are several further resources for bicycle safety: