As a personal injury attorney practicing in Colorado I have seen many bicycling accidents that might have been avoided or the injuries minimized with the exercise of a few common sense precautions on the part of the bike rider. Please do not take this as putting blame on my fellow cyclists. Far too many cyclists are hit because the negligent driver didn’t see them. Far too many cyclists suffer brain injuries because they weren’t wearing a helmet. Hopefully these tips will help you, a friend, or a family member from getting in an accident in the first place or with minimal injuries. Pass them along and if you have any suggestions for additional tips email me and I’ll include them here.
Be a Fred. Among the many things I’ve learned as a lawyer is not to assume that everyone knows what might seem obvious. There is a term that riders use (Shameful admission: I have used it too!) to make fun of someone who looks kind of nerdy because of how they dress for a ride. They are called “Fred”. A Fred is someone with a mishmash gear who not only doesn’t care about bike fashion but usually has stains from the bike chain on his or her white socks, wears reflective vests and tape, and has a rearview mirror on their helmet or handlebars. As any “serious” rider will tell you, some Freds are incredibly strong because they ride everywhere. They will also admit to having been passed and dropped by a Fred like a bad habit. Nothing wounds a serious riders pride like getting passed by someone dressed like a school crossing guard riding a clunker. Why do I mention Freds under safety tips? I do so because things have gotten more and more dangerous for road riders. Riding with lots of reflectors and mirrors might be unfashionable but it just might save you from getting crushed under the wheels of a giant S.U.V. piloted by a talking, texting teenager. I don’t make fun of them anymore. I have seen and heard of too much carnage to care what I look like on the bike. I don’t have chain stains on my leg, but I do ride with a mirror. Being seen and seeing what is coming from behind is safer – embrace your inner Fred!
Here are more tips in no particular order and some commentary.
Wear a helmet. Helmets have become cheap, light, comfortable and cool. There is never a reason not to wear one. Seventy-five percent of bicyclist fatalities result from head injuries. Helmets can also reduce the severity of a head injury. Wear it!
Obey traffic signals and signs. When drivers see bicyclists blow through stop signs or stoplights they build up a bias or even a hatred of cyclists. That same driver might pass a little to close to frighten another rider, throw something at them, or sit on your jury if you have been hit. Think about it.
Use a headlight, taillight and reflectors if you ride when it’s dark. See and be seen.
Use hand signals. Don’t expect drivers to read your mind. Signaling is courteous and lets them know what direction you are headed.
Make eye contact. A lot of accidents are caused by drivers pulling out in front of bicyclists. Staring at a driver until you make eye contact ensures they know you are there. Don’t assume that they see you and know that you have the right-of-way.
Ride single file. A lot of motorists don’t believe that bicyclists should be on the road and the way they drive their cars reflects their beliefs. They forget that the person on the bike is somebody’s wife, husband, father or daughter. Riding side by side impedes traffic slows the flow of traffic and seriously angers drivers. Let’s do what we can to stop giving drivers a reason to drive like jerks or worse.
Expect the unexpected. Don’t expect the person behind the wheel of a vehicle to be sane, competent, or caring.
Ride with traffic. Remember you have the same rights and responsibilities as drivers of cars. Go with the flow.
Always keep at least one hand on the bars. A loose grip or no hands can result in an awful crash if you hit a bump or crack.
Don’t listen to music, talk on a phone, or text while riding. Focus! You need to have all of your senses working when you are on a bike in traffic. You wouldn’t ride with your eyes closed so don’t ride with music playing in your ears so you can’t hear. Studies have shown that talking on a phone while driving is the same as being drunk and texting is even more dangerous. If you need to call or send a message, please, please, pull over.
Carry identification and a cell phone. If you crash or are hit by a car, identification will help to notify your family. Make a photocopy of your license or picture I.D. and write your phone and emergency contact information on it. Get it laminated and put it in your saddle bag or tape it to the bottom of your seat. Once upon a time bicyclists might have kept change for a phone call in case of an emergency. Now you’d be lucky to even find a pay phone. Most cell phones weigh less than 5 ounces and easily fit in a Ziploc bag.
Ride a properly fitting bike. A bike that doesn’t fit properly isn’t safe. You wouldn’t (hopefully) drive a car without adjusting the mirrors or being able to comfortably reach the pedals and steering wheel. Why? It’s not safe. If you can’t ride comfortably, reach the brakes, and see where you are going on a bike it’s not safe either. Please don’t buy a too big bike for your children to grow into. Risking their safety to save money is not a good bargain.