For nearly a decade, the number of bicycle accident deaths declined. However, recent studies show that bicycle accident deaths are increasing. In fact, fatal bike accidents are outpacing all other traffic-related deaths. In other words, it’s a dangerous time to ride a bike in the United States.
Statistics reported by the Governor’s Highway Safety Association demonstrate that the rise in fatal bike accidents began around 2011. Since that year, an additional 55 riders have been killed in accidents every year. In 2015, 818 cyclists were killed on our roads, an increase of more than 12 percent from the year before. More recent statistics indicate that roads are not getting any safer. By 2016, the CDC reports that more than 1,000 bicyclists were killed in traffic accidents.
Fortunately, you have the ability to limit the risk of a bicycle accident. Here are ten things you can do to keep yourself safe when you’re sharing the road.
1. Wear a Helmet
Not all states require bicyclists to wear a helmet. However, research shows that wearing a helmet can reduce the risk of a serious injury by 70 percent. Head injuries are the leading cause of fatal bike accidents. Unfortunately, 97 percent of victims do not wear helmets. Simply wearing a helmet can prevent many unintentional bike deaths.
2. Check Your Equipment Before You Ride
Bike accidents aren’t always caused by a distracted driver or an unexpected bump in the road. Bicycle equipment malfunctions contribute to a significant number of crashes. You can reduce the risk of an equipment-related accident by checking your bike, helmet, and gear before you hit the road.
Make sure your tires are properly inflated. Check your reflectors and lights to make sure that they’re working. Inspect your chains and gears for any defects, fractures, or issues. These simple steps can prevent an accident that could change your life.
3. Wear Reflective Materials
A leading cause of bike accidents is limited visibility. If a driver cannot see you, an accident is more likely to occur. This is particularly true at intersections when your paths are likely to cross. While installing reflectors on your bike can help, it’s also important to wear bright and/or reflective clothing. Increasing your visibility will reduce the risk of a bike accident.
4. Keep Your Hands on the Bike
You may have a great sense of balance. This may allow you to ride your bike without keeping any hands on the handlebars. Think twice before riding hands-free, particularly when you’re sharing the road with other vehicles. If your hands aren’t on the bike, it will take you much longer to react to unexpected circumstances, such as a pedestrian in your path or debris in the road. As a result, you’re more likely to either fall off of your bike or cause an accident because you cannot brake in time.
5. Know Your Signals and Use Them
Many bike accidents occur at or near an intersection. It’s important to make sure that you’re fully familiar with bike hand signals. You need to be able to communicate with nearby drivers and other cyclists. A driver cannot anticipate what you’re going to do unless you provide fair warning. Make sure that your hand signals are obvious and clear to others. Accidents are less likely to happen when everyone on the road is on the same page.
6. Limit Your Distractions
Distracted driving is a leading cause of fatal car accidents in the United States. Unsurprisingly, it can be just as dangerous to ride a bike while distracted. In fact, since you’re already more vulnerable to serious injury and death, distracted cycling can be even riskier.
Riding a bike is a fantastic experience. You get to exercise and get fresh air. It’s also an opportunity to disconnect and take a break from the frenzy of your day-to-day life. Take full advantage of your bike ride by stashing electronics in your bag or pocket. If you need to drink, opt for a water bottle that’s easy to operate with one hand. Keeping your eyes on the road and tuning into your surroundings will help to keep you safe.
7. Ride As If You’re In a Car
You may be able to reduce the likelihood of an accident if you act like you’re driving a car. Why? Studies show that drivers become used to the patterns and behaviors of vehicles on the road. Cars don’t weave in and out of traffic, ignore traffic signals, or cut across multiple lanes at once. When you ride a bike, it’s easier to do these things. However, you’re more likely to catch a driver by surprise or limit your visibility when you do. Keep yourself safe by riding predictably and mimicking the behaviors of larger vehicles whenever appropriate.
8. Ride With the Flow of Traffic
Always ride your bike with the flow of traffic. In other words, travel in the same direction as other vehicles on the road. Accidents are much more likely to happen when you go against the grain. If an accident does happen when you’re riding against the flow of traffic, you’re more likely to be at fault for the crash. This can prevent or reduce a financial recovery.
9. Stay Off of the Sidewalks
Sidewalks may seem like a safe alternative when you’re riding alongside larger vehicles. However, sidewalk biking can be incredibly dangerous for a few reasons. First, sidewalks belong to pedestrians. You’re more likely to crash into a pedestrian or lose control when the sidewalks are crowded. Second, sidewalk pavement is more likely to be uneven than asphalt on the road. You can hit a crack or bump in the sidewalk and go flying. Finally, cars don’t expect to see a bicyclist enter the road from a sidewalk. You’re more likely to take a driver by surprise and get hit when you use the sidewalk. Remember, drivers are used to behaviors of other cars.
10. Use Dedicated Bike Lanes
An increasing number of cities and municipalities across the country are embracing dedicated bike infrastructure, which is the goal of the People Powered Movement. Bike lanes of all varieties are popping up across the country. However, protected bike lanes can only keep you safe if you ride in them. Whenever you see a bike lane, make sure to use it.
If bike lanes are used, towns are more likely to invest in more dedicated bicycle infrastructure. This can go a long way in keeping you and others safe when you’re sharing the road.