Bicycle Traffic Safety
Bicycle traffic accidents, also called cycling accidents, pedalcycle accidents, bicycle crashes, pedalcycle crashes, and bike-car collisions, can be avoided through understanding why they occur.
There are many people who think that bicycling is especially dangerous, not recognizing that cyclists travel more miles per fatality than pedestrians and more hours per fatality than passenger vehicle users.
However, saying that cycling is fairly safe on the average does not mean that individuals shouldn't make efforts to make their own cycling more safe. We see a vast difference in the safety of selected groups of cyclists; for instance, children have 720 accidents per million hours while a group of British cyclists averaged just 66 accidents in the same amount of cycling time. We also see strong differences between individuals. Some have frequent, serious falls and/or collisions, and others have few accidents or none. In my 100,000 miles of cycling, I have fallen off of my bike six times, resulting in skin abrasion twice and no visits to the doctor. All of my own accidents, by the way, were due to my own stupidity and could have been easily avoided. [NOTE: In February 2002, I had my seventh fall, again my own fault, and this time I went to the hospital with a broken hip.]
One choice a bicyclist can make is to be fatalistic about the matter and to decide that some cyclists are lucky and others are not, and another choice is to work to prevent future falls and collisions. However, the decision to try to be careful in itself is not safe enough. Many fatalities and injuries occur among those who were trying to be careful, but who weren't following the correct procedures. For example, cyclists who ride on the sidewalk, on wrong side of the road, and at the extreme edge of the pavement are all fearfully trying to prevent injuries, but the methods they employ greatly increase their chances of getting struck by cars.
Analysis of bicycling accidents and of cyclist fatalities demonstrate that cyclists are most safe when they operate their bicycles as vehicles. Motorists scan the highway in front of them and on either side watching for other vehicles. They do not watch as carefully for pedestrians, and they do not anticipate fast-moving bicycles traveling on sidewalks, crosswalks, and shoulders, especially when traveling in the opposite direction from the rest of the traffic.
For this reason, bicycle traffic laws are almost the same as those for motor vehicles. All state laws either define bicycles as vehicles or give cyclists the rights and responsibilities of vehicle operators. Unfortunately, police do not enforce these laws, probably on the principle that only the cyclist is likely to be injured. In fact, in some areas, cyclists are encouraged to ride on sidewalks where they are less safe or to use bikelanes which violate the rules of normal traffic behavior.
The advice I provide in my articles is based on my own experience in traveling by bicycle and on accident analyses that I have read. For those needing more basic advice, John Allen and Wayne Pein both have safety handbooks online (see the right-hand column).
Articles on Bicycle Traffic Safety
How to Ride in Traffic How to prepare to ride in traffic, my five rules for riding on the road, with details of how to interface with automobiles.
How to Avoid Traffic Accidents A look at all the types of bicycle-motor vehicle collisions and how they can be avoided; personal near collisions and how I avoided them.
Cyclist Errors which Cause Automobile-Bicycle Collisions, Illustrated An explanation of the kinds of errors which bike riders make which lead to collisions between bicycles and motor vehicles, diagrams which illustrate how these behaviors cause accidents, and explanations of how injury could have been avoided.
How to Avoid Bike-Car Collisions, Illustrated; Motorist Caused Accidents Common near-collisions which I have experienced, with diagrams to show what they look like.
Rather basic, one page safety instructions in Spanish and English, intended for someone who does not speak English well. Each version says the same thing. They can be used as handouts or posted on a wall. You might wish to print the Spanish on one side and the English on the other. You can adjust the font size on your browser to change the appearance. Thanks to Carlos Ferrandis for his translation.
Teaching Children How to Bicycle Safely Analysis of traffic accidents show that children are struck by cars while bicycling mainly because they don't understand the traffic laws. Advice for teaching these laws, with emphasis on how to teach and when to teach these rules.
Wrong Way Cycling Why people bicycle on the wrong side of the road, why the pedestrian "rule" does not work for cyclists, and how a wrong way rider is in much greater jeopardy.
Fear of Traffic from the Rear An unhealthy fear of traffic can cause a cyclist to behave in ways that are more dangerous. How to cope with traffic coming from behind.
Be a Little Gingerbread Man Explains that the Little Gingerbread Man erred when he decided to trust the fox, and argues that as cyclists we should never trust the motorist to do the safe thing. Obey the traffic law and be predictable but be ready to jump whenever danger should appear.
Using Assertiveness in Traffic Disputes A cyclist who quit riding on the road because of a traffic incident gets some pointers on how to behave with police and motorists.
Should Cyclists Obey the Traffic Laws? The rise in number of people who disobey the law, reasons for disobeying the law, examples of justified uses of civil disobedience, and why breaking traffic laws injures cyclists' rights.
How Should Cyclists Obey the Traffic Laws? Running stop signs, the letter vs. the spirit of the law, the slippery slope, the foolishness of saving time by breaking laws, the danger to cyclists of motorists doing the same, just obeying the law not good enough, the need for assertiveness.
Types of Bicycle Riders Looks at the ways in which bike riders and cyclists operate on the road and explains how I interface with traffic.
Advice to Motorists What a motorist should do when approaching a cyclist, the fear of being late, why cyclists don't get off the road, and how motorists are most likely to kill legal cyclists.
Coping with Dogs Explains why any one tactic won't work with every dog but also explains a method that almost always works.