I’m glad that the City of Bellingham is looking for ways to make our roads safer. Seeing these new “green boxes” for bikes near intersections and the “sharrows” in the roads where bikes are to merge with cars made me think. Do drivers know how to share the road with bikes? From the CDC:

While only 1% of all trips taken in the U.S. are by bicycle, bicyclists face a higher risk of crash-related injury and deaths than occupants of motor vehicles do. In 2013 in the U.S., over 900 bicyclists were killed and there were an estimated 494,000 emergency department visits due to bicycle-related injuries.3 Data from 2010 show fatal and non-fatal crash-related injuries to bicyclists resulted in lifetime medical costs and productivity losses of $10 billion.

Here are ten rules of the road to help cyclists and drivers navigate the roadways together:

  • Remember that a car outweighs a bike by several tons. Keep this in mind when driving, and make sure your focus is on the road and the other vehicles – including bikes – around you.
  • Bikes are considered vehicles, according to the NHTSA. This means they should be riding on the road, not sidewalks, and obeying traffic laws like cars.
  • Think about the person on the bicycle, not the object in your way. Sometimes motorists get impatient when traveling around bicycles which can’t go as fast. However, it is one less car on the road, and it’s very unlikely that you’ll have to travel behind the bicyclist the entire way of your commute. Take a deep breath and picture the person on the bike as a friend or family member if you feel your blood pressure begin to rise.
  • One more bike on the road means one less car. That’s less wear and tear of the roads that lead to expensive pothole repairs. Bikes lessen traffic congestion, and don’t pollute the air.
  • Make sure you signal your turns. If you’re turning right and a cyclist is behind you about to continue straight,  you risk hitting them. Cyclists also need to signal their turns. Know the signs: A left arm raised in a squared position means a right turn, a left arm extended straight means left, and a stopping bike should have the arm squared and pointing down. Here’s a video about the hand signals for bicycles to refresh your memory.
  • Sometimes bicyclists will be going through an intersection when they impact a car turning left. A driver may figure there’s plenty of time to turn in front of the bike, but that’s not always so. And saying that you didn’t think the bike was going that fast won’t hold up in court. A bike can easily make speeds of 20 mph or more. Yield if you are in doubt about how much time you have, just as you would any approaching vehicle.
  • Give cyclists three feet of clearance. Many states have a law that requires all motorists to give bikes this amount of space. Also, when passing a bike, just maintain a steady speed, no need to accelerate. Predictable driving styles tend to be safer.
  • As with just about any list of tips, don’t drive while distracted. Be on the look out for everyone – cars, bikes, pedestrians, and unexpected movement from any of them. If you are on your phone, or otherwise not focused on the task of driving, the effects can be devastating. Traveling at highway speeds, just looking away for five seconds is the equivalent of driving the length of a football field with your eyes closed.
  • Look before you leap… out of your car. Cyclists have to worry about being “doored” as they ride alongside parked cars. If a driver opens the door as a cyclist is just about to pass, the cyclist can be thrown off the bike, an accident that can have consequences that are bad enough. But if he lands in the path of oncoming traffic, it’s going to be far worse. Check the sideview mirror to make sure no one is coming.
  • Lastly, bicycling is on the rise. More and more people are discovering it as a healthy, inexpensive way to get around town. No need for parking money, or trips to the auto mechanic. Many cities are seeing an increase in commuter cyclists, so make peace with them – for everyone’s safety.

For more info, click on these links:

City of Bellingham Bicycle Master Plan 

Bellingham Herald: “Drivers, bicyclists to navigate new bike boxes in Bellingham

NHTSA’s page on bike safety 

Bill Coats Law has worked with bicyclists who were victims of someone else’s recklessness or negligence, including finding over $1.1M for a cyclist who needed neck surgery after a terrible prank went wrong. If you’ve been injured while on your bicycle, don’t hesitate to give him a call. Bill offers free consultations to talk about your case. 

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