It Takes Two: Coexisting on the Road
By Lee Michael Katz
The road is there to share, so follow these tips to make drivers and bicycle riders feel safe.
Pedal power is growing: Bike lanes have popped up on streets all over the country, and bike-riding more than doubled in some cities in recent years. But the mismatch between a vehicle that can weigh tons and a lightweight bicycle frame can have tragic consequences. About 48,000 cyclists were injured in traffic accidents
in 2011, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. This resulted in 677 deaths.
A joint report by the New York City departments of Health and Mental Hygiene, Parks and Recreation, and Transportation, and the New York City Police Department found that nearly all fatalities with motor vehicles were the result of driver or cyclist error, including such "human factors" as failing to signal or improperly changing lanes.
Yet simple safety practices, an extra-cautious eye and common courtesy can help save lives and prevent injuries. Here are some ways to reduce the danger and breathe easier when sharing the road with cyclists:
- Defensive driving extends to bikes. You drive a safe length behind other motorists, so don't ride the bumper of a bike. Leave yourself adequate space to react. This is especially critical when passing a bicyclist. Leading the charge, California has mandated a three-foot buffer zone for passing a bike when driving.
- Yield — and watch out for bicyclists who don't. "The largest group of motorist-caused collisions occurs when the motorist fails to yield when entering the road," according to an analysis in A Law Officer's Guide to Bicycle Safety. The report adds, "This could be from a driveway, parking lane, or stop or yield sign." It also notes that, failure to yield by both motorists and bicyclists accounts for nearly 25 percent of collisions. Bicyclists can easily miss stop signs, so take extra care in bike-riding areas.
- Pay extra attention to hidden bicyclists. With their small profile, bikes won't show up nearly as easily as a vehicle in your mirrors. For example, when turning right, check the curb lane and check over your right shoulder so you do not cut off any cyclists. Automobile drivers should make sure to properly adjust their mirrors to reduce blind spots around their vehicles.
- Open doors carefully. Your vehicle doors may open into or near a bike lane or travel path. Don't just look out for cars. Even parked, you could hit a passing bike.
- Return the favor when biking. When you're cycling with traffic, don't zigzag between cars and use hand signals when turning. You have the same responsibility to obey traffic laws on your bike as you do in your car.
Whether you're driving or biking, sharing the road and following a few basic rules to accommodate your fellow travelers will help keep everyone safe.