Ah, spring! While this spring seems to be hitting Bellingham a lot later than last year, the days are finally getting warmer as the daylight waxes. With the longer daylight hours and warmer temperatures, more bicyclists and pedestrians are crawling out of hibernation, which means an increase in car/bike/auto interactions. We at Bill Coats Law want those interactions to end up peaceful and safe for everyone, so in that spirit here are some safety tips for motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians. Please review them with your family and especially your kids.
- Expect pedestrians – Pedestrians can show up anywhere, not just at crosswalks. Be on the lookout for those on foot around bus stops and school zones, as well as shopping centers so you don’t have a terrible accident like this one.
- Know the rights-of-way and comply with them – In particular, motorists should understand when pedestrians and cyclists have the right-of-way, and they should always yield this right-of-way. Remember, you’re surrounded by a steel cage and the other guy is protected by a t-shirt. Err on the side of caution and give pedestrians a wide berth.
- Always check your blind spots – Mirrors and an over-the-shoulder check are equally important in checking blind spots. Changing lanes, turning, merging, are all good times to make sure you know what’s around you.
- Be especially careful near schools and at night – School zones are especially tricky because kids don’t always comply with traffic law whether out of excitement and distraction or they just don’t know they laws. Assume there is a kid behind a parked car, or about to step into the street from the sidewalk and slow down. Also, nighttime driving presents elevated crash hazard for obvious reasons. Be extra cautious at this times. Simply turning off cell phones and driving sober helps drivers focus on their job behind the wheel. That job is one thing and one thing only: driving.
- Ride with traffic – It is the law that bicyclists ride with traffic for good reason. A biker riding against the flow can be unpredictable and surprise a driver.
- Use bike lanes – When and where available, ride in bike lanes. Bellingham tends to have these on major thoroughfares, but if not, proceed alongside the slowest lane of traffic and comply with all traffic laws.
- Wear the right gear – Be visible! Motorists’ number one reason for hitting a cyclist is that they didn’t see them. Of course, if that driver is not paying attention to the road because of a cell phone or cheeseburger, it’s not the bicyclist’s fault. But there’s a lot cyclists can do to stack the visibility cards in their favor. Lights and reflective gear are extremely important. Check this post on ways bicyclists can be visible to cars.
- Be alert and predictable – While cyclists (like motorists) should do their best to stay focused on navigating the roadways (rather than, for instance, talking on phones), they should also try to keep their movements/actions predictable for other drivers and signal well before making any moves.
- Always look before proceeding – Don’t assume vehicles will stop for you, even if you have the right of way and a green light. Look before you leap! Turn your head to the left, the right and left again before you step into the roadway, even if you’re in a crosswalk. If the approaching vehicle doesn’t look like it sees you (you know who you are, you smiling cars), or you can’t make eye contact with the driver, wait until you are sure you’re spotted.
- Cut out the distractions – Distracted walking is getting to be more and more familiar to Bellingham folks because of the increased number of accidents this behavior causes. Remain alert when you’re walking in public. Your eyes are helpful to watch the traffic flow and look for signals to alert you when it’s time to cross streets, but your ears can also keep you safe. Free up all your senses and keep yourself safe as you walk along roads.
- Make yourself visible – Wear bright clothing and, when it is darker or nighttime, wear reflectors so that drivers can see you. If it’s night and you’re wearing dark colors, you probably have that cell phone with you. You probably have a phone with you if you’re wearing light colors, for that matter. And your phone probably has a flashlight. Better safe than sorry!