As a cyclist, there are few experiences more terrifying than that of being hit by a car. A popular belief is that riding a bicycle is a dangerous pastime, but it doesn’t have to be. While it’s impossible to predict how motorists will behave, there are still plenty of ways to reduce your chances of being hit by a motor vehicle. By investing a small amount of time learning local riding ordinances, familiarizing yourself with the most common bike-car collisions, making responsible decisions, and maintaining a constant awareness of your surroundings, you can greatly reduce the chances of becoming involved in one yourself.
Observe traffic laws
Many cyclists, especially those who are newer to the sport, don’t know that in the eyes of the law, bicycles are viewed as "vehicles", so the same road rules and responsibilities that apply to motor vehicle drivers also apply to bicycle riders, too. Observing traffic laws and being aware of your surroundings are two of the most obvious safety suggestions.
Even though local ordinances vary throughout the country, there are some basic riding principles that can be applied anywhere:
- ride with traffic
- observe traffic lights and signs
- stick to marked bike lanes whenever possible
- avoid riding on highways, expressways, and interstate routes
Traffic laws set forth a behavioral code that helps maintain order and safety. By observing local traffic laws, you are making your riding decisions much more predictable to others with whom you share the road.
Maintain situational awareness
Common sense tells us that we need to be focused on the road when we’re driving our car because taking our attention away from the road could prove to be a dangerous, even deadly decision; apply the same thinking whenever you ride your bike. Situational awareness refers to knowing what is happening around you and it’s one of the most important safety skills you can have.
Situational awareness is why we see a car door open into the bike lane ahead, and with some careful maneuvering, allows the opportunity to avoid a serious accident. Being aware of your surroundings means avoiding some of the most common safety distractors:
- Phones (and other devices with a screen). If you’re on your bike and feel you absolutely have to use your phone, find a safe resting place. Once you’ve come to a complete stop, feel free to use your phone (or any other device) necessary. Using your phone while riding your bike isn’t any different than driving a car while texting; both take attention off of the road and put you and everyone on the road at risk.
- Headphones and earbuds. Tempting as it may be to listen to your favorite podcast or playlist as you ride, doing so can have dangerous consequences. With your hearing compromised, there’s a good chance you won’t hear oncoming traffic, pedestrians, or life-saving signals, such as car horns, bike bells, or people calling out.
- Riding with one or no hands on the handlebars. When it comes to safety and control, there’s no such thing as “too careful,” which is why even the most experienced of cyclists should ride with both hands on the handlebars. The importance of using two hands when riding cannot be overstressed. Because hands and handlebars offer the greatest amount of cyclist-operated control, choosing to ride with only one hand is choosing to relinquish control over your bike and your overall safety, putting yourself and everyone else on the road at greater risk.
- Riding under the influence. Under no circumstances should you ride a bike while intoxicated. Just as it’s unsafe and illegal to operate a motor vehicle while under the influence, riding while impaired can also result in injury or death and has legal consequences.
What you must know to be safe
Perhaps one of the most important factors in prevention is awareness of the threat. In order to protect yourself from the threats you are mostly likely to encounter when riding, you must create an awareness of the most common cycling dangers.
Beware of door dangers
Car doors may be one of the greatest dangers to cyclists. One of the simplest strategies you can implement to avoid being hit by a car door is to adopt the mindset that every door you pass will open and hit you. Extend this way of thinking to all motor vehicles: moving, stopped, parked, and especially at intersections. If you’re left with no option but to ride closer than a door’s length away, it’s best to ride at a walking speed so you have better control and greater response time. It’s also important to pay attention to the telltale signs of door danger: brake lights, taxi vacancy lights, and the side-to-ride rocking motion of passengers preparing to crawl out of the backseat.
Watch out for unexpected right turns
Last minute, unannounced right turns are not uncommon - especially when the driver is unfamiliar with their surroundings or is lost. Hesitant and lost drivers are annoyances to other motorists, but to cyclists, they can become a legitimate danger. When you notice a car exhibiting erratic behavior, it’s a good idea to take extra care to allow yourself sufficient stopping distance; doing so gives you better stopping control, reducing your likelihood of plowing into a right-turning car. It also doesn’t hurt to adopt the habit of looking over your left shoulder (if traveling on the right side of the road) when approaching intersections, exit ramps, and driveways. Remember: you can never be too careful when it comes to safety.
Keep a safe distance between yourself and others
Whether behind the wheel of a motor vehicle or on the saddle of a bike, tailgating is never a good idea. Because no one can predict what another is thinking, you must conduct yourself in a way that allows the time and distance required to respond to the last minute decisions of others, which could include sudden turns and stops.
The overall small size of a bicycle makes it more difficult to be seen on the road, often resulting in cars unknowingly getting too close to cyclists. In heavy traffic, the issue becomes increasingly dangerous because a bike can stop quicker than a car and most bikes are not equipped with brake lights, so motorists often don’t realize there’s a need to slow down until it’s too late. Hit-from-behind accidents are quite common and often result in injuries to the cyclist, even if both vehicles were traveling at low speeds, so it’s important that you take whatever precautions possible to protect yourself. Affordable and easy to use, mirrors increase your visibility and can even provide the additional reaction time needed to make life-changing decisions. Bike helmet and bar end mirrors are the equivalent of a car’s rear-view and side-view mirrors, respectively.
Ride in bike lanes, not on sidewalks
While it might be tempting to ride over the smooth sidewalk surface, keep in mind that sidewalks are designed to keep pedestrians safe; bike lanes are intended to ensure the safety of those riding bikes. If there are no bike lanes, cyclists are legally entitled to ride in the same driving lanes as motor vehicles. If you find yourself on a busy road without a bike lane or a wide shoulder, it’s best to seek an alternate route whenever possible. Remember: one of the biggest advantages of riding a bike is the flexibility it brings.
Get to know your bike
Knowing how your bike will behave and how to handle it in a particular situation can be the difference between a short-lived moment of excitement and a trip to the emergency room. The best way to get to know your bike is to ride it. To know your bike is to feel how it rides, eventually establishing a oneness with it.
Sensing just how much brake pressure it takes to lock up a tire is critical in avoiding uncontrolled slides. Intuitively knowing how much pressure to let off the pedals and upshift or downshift multiple gears in a single throw of the shifter lever will allow you to effectively manage the energy of a bike, particularly accelerating faster and ride more efficiently. This “becoming one with the machine” takes time and practice, but it’s well worth the time and effort, as it’s a fun way to make yourself a safer, more in-control rider. When you have a few spare minutes, take your bike to an empty parking lot and practice.
Know how to maneuver around pedestrians
Like motor vehicles, bicycles must always yield to pedestrians. If passing a pedestrian is unavoidable, then it’s imperative that you know the best way to do so.
It’s instinctive for a pedestrian to jump forward when they see danger coming; riding behind a pedestrian for the purpose of passing is recommended because it leaves no question as to who is yielding. Before approaching a pedestrian from behind, first slow down and announce yourself and your intention to pass. Simply calling out “rider, on your left” in a loud voice might be all you need to alert pedestrians that you are about to pass them. A bell installed on your handlebars can also make riding near pedestrians much easier because it presents no language barrier.
Make yourself seen
By making decisions based on the premise that you aren’t seen by motorists, pedestrians, and other cyclists, you are increasing the likelihood that you’re making safe decisions. There’s no such thing as “too careful” when it comes to your safety.
One way to make yourself seen is by dressing both you and your bike up in apparel and accessories that are eye catching. Bright clothes, vests, and helmets are easier for others to see than neutral clothes are. Reflectors and lights can be affixed to clothes, helmets, and bikes, and should be used at all times. (Yes, even during the day). Bells establish an auditory presence, so don’t be afraid to add one to your arsenal of safety accessories. Make sure that whatever safety devices you choose don’t affect your ability to control your bike.
Increase your physical presence
In addition to equipping yourself and your bike with safety apparel and accessories, there are certain actions you can take to increase your physical presence. Where and how you ride, along with how you communicate your intentions, can have a profound effect on your riding experiences.
If you must ride on a road without a bike lane, make yourself more obvious by riding in the middle of the lane instead of the lane’s outer edge. By riding on the outer edge of a lane, you’re inviting drivers to pass you, often unsafely. Learning basic hand signals to relay your intentions to those with whom you share the road – especially when incorporating eye contact and exaggerated body language – both improves and increases communication. Defensive riding techniques, particularly in how you handle yourself and your bike in specific circumstances, can help you learn how to keep your mind focused on the present, which just might be what keeps you from flying head first into the back of the car in front of you.
Learn and practice emergency maneuvers
Believe it or not, many bike-car collisions can be avoided if involved parties possess certain emergency maneuverability skills. Some accidents are impossible to predict or avoid and even the most experienced of cyclists can find themselves involved in an accident, but others can be avoided if the rider knows how to maneuver to safety.
A track stand is a technique used by cyclists to stay stationary on the bike while standing on the pedals, clipped in or otherwise. A track stand allows you to come to a complete stop, as required by law at stop signs and red lights without dismounting the bike. The key to a track stand is balance and is something that should be practiced.
Being able to jump over a pothole, a stick, or a curb on a bike takes a lot of practice, but mastering this skill can help save you in a variety of otherwise dangerous circumstances. To perform a jump, the rider must crouch down to preload the bike and spring up quickly pulling the bike with him and lifting both the bike’s wheels off the ground. Bunny hop is the most common of bicycle jumps, where both of the wheels of the bike leave the ground at the same time. Once you master the bunny hop, move onto the “pro hop” in which the front wheel leaves the ground before the rear wheel; while it requires more precise body movement and balance control, once mastered it becomes a simpler trick to execute, especially at higher speeds.
Being able to stop your bike quickly and safely in an emergency might sound basic, but many inexperienced riders have yet to acquire this critical skill. As you practice, you’ll realize that the front brake has notably more stopping power than the rear brake. As you apply your brakes, it’s important to shift your weight towards the rear of the bike by slightly standing up in the pedals, lifting up your body off the saddle and shifting it backwards. This redistribution of weight will prevent you from going over the bars.
The “left cross” and the “right hook” are the two common hazards cyclists encounter. The quick turn maneuver will help you avoid both of these hazards: a car in oncoming traffic that is turning to the left across your path, or a car traveling in the same direction as you and making a right turn across your path.
The quick turn maneuver needs to be practiced because it’s somewhat counterintuitive: to execute it correctly, you first need to turn your wheel slightly to the left, then immediately turn your wheel to the right. This maneuver involves a fast and significant shift of the combined rider’s and bicycle’s weights in order to accomplish a very sharp turn and staying upright. Because it’s so counterintuitive, we recommend that you practice it until it becomes an automatic skill.
One of the easiest maneuvers to learn, quick dodge is a way to avoid small objects in the road. It is especially effective at low to medium speeds. To execute this maneuver, turn the wheel quickly to the left or right, and then just as quickly turn it in the opposite direction, putting the bike onto it’s original trajectory. As you do this, your rear wheel will follow the front.
When you need to get around numerous hazards, such as a series of potholes or various debris on the road, winding through them might be the most effective way to tackle such a challenge. The key to executing an effective avoidance weave is to look far ahead and slalom, or weave, on the bike in a way so that the exit path from one hazard is the entrance path to tackling the next one.
Anyone who’s had the experience will agree that there are few more frightening than being a cyclist in a bike-car accident. Those who are lucky only suffer minor scratches; those who are not will find themselves taking an ambulance ride to the hospital. Even the “lucky ones” find themselves with a problem on their hands: it’s likely their beloved bike has been either damaged or destroyed and they are handed a hefty hospital bill.
Just as few experiences can render the fear of being a cyclist in an accident, there are also few experiences more frustrating than being the careful, calculated cyclist who ends up being hit by a distracted driver. The fact that their trusty steed is out of commission until repairs are completed only adds insult to injury.
While bicycle insurance can’t prevent anyone from being hit by another, it can certainly make a difficult situation a little bit less stressful. Velosurance, a bike insurance company created by cyclists, offers highly customizable policies that consider the many needs of cyclists. Whether it’s damage resulting from a collision, loss due to theft, or even loss or damage in transit, there’s a policy for you. The Velosurance policy can be customized with a number of optional coverages to cover your specific risks: medical gap to cover your major medical policy’s out-of-pocket deductible, Vehicle Contract protection to cover the expenses associated with being hit by an uninsured or an underinsured driver, Liability coverage to protect you when you’ve caused harm to others, Worldwide coverage to extend your policy to any place in the World, and roadside assistance in case you break down far away from home. So whatever the situation, Velosurance has got you covered.