In recent years, there has been an alarming increase in cyclist fatalities in the U.S., and according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the majority of fatal crashes involved a single car striking a cyclist with the front of the vehicle at non-intersections in urban areas. The “victor” of a collision between a 2,500-pound car and a 15-pound bicycle is almost certainly the car, though the driver certainly wouldn’t feel like a winner. In a worst-case scenario, a driver could face imprisonment and living with the guilt of severely injuring or killing a cyclist.
Cyclists are motorists too, and knowing how to share the road with bikes will eliminate some of your frustrations as a driver (trust me, I get you) and contribute to the safety of those with just as much of a right to the road as you.
The Safety and Expansion of Cycling-Friendly Infrastructure
A job I held in the past required that I navigate the often narrow streets of Newport, Rhode Island during the summer rush. Unlike my hometown, Newport made extensive use of dedicated and shared bike lanes that cyclists rightfully enjoyed, even if I white-knuckled my steering wheel in fear of accidentally running one. After a few weeks, I grew comfortable with sharing the road with cyclists, grateful for clearly-delineated bike lanes because I knew they increased the safety of cyclists – and lessened the likelihood I’d accidentally hurt someone.
More than half of American adults worry about being hit by a car while cycling, yet 47 percent claim they’d be more likely to bike if cars and bikes were physically separated. This has an interesting correlation to the introduction or expansion of bike-friendly paths and lanes in cities, as only three percent of cycling fatalities between 2010 and 2015 occurred in bicycle lanes. As cities continue to build up cycling-friendly infrastructure, like Austin’s bike traffic lights, bike ridership tends to increase.
However, just because a bike lane exists doesn’t mean you’re absolved of your responsibility as a driver and can trust cyclists to stay in their lane. Roads belong to them just as much as they do drivers of cars, trucks, and other four-plus-wheeled vehicles, so you need to learn to share.
6 Tips for Sharing the Road with Cyclists (Without Losing Your Cool)
It’s easy to get frustrated when you’re stuck behind someone pedaling along at a speed less than most posted speed limits (the average speed of a bicycle is about 15 miles per hour), but cyclists have as much of a right to be on the road as cars do. Keeping the following tips in mind will not only protect a rider’s safety, but keep you cool and composed behind the wheel, too.
Adopt the Dutch Reach
The concept of dooring – opening a car door and striking a passing cyclist – may be humorous in a movie, but the reality is no laughing matter. In fact, dooring is dangerous, and has contributed to higher cyclist injuries and deaths in both Chicago and Toronto. At the same time, the growing popularity of bike-share initiatives and bike riding puts more cyclists on the street – and at risk of vehicle-related injuries and fatalities.
While the name sounds like a euphemism you’d learn of in middle school, the Dutch Reach actually refers to the Dutch practice of opening the driver’s side car door with the right hand. This motion pivots your whole body to bring your eyesight to your rear-view mirror and the street behind your car – the direction where cyclists may be coming from – and prevent you from dooring a passing rider.
The Dutch Reach is taught by default in the bike-friendly Netherlands, its namesake and birthplace, and is a good habit to develop, especially if you live in or are visiting a popular biking spot.
Put Down the Phone
When you’re behind the wheel, you need to remain focused on the actual task of driving. Almost all states ban texting while driving, while others permit only hands-free cell phone usage. With 76 of the 818 cycling deaths in 2015 attributed to distracted driving, it’s important to put the phone away while you’re behind the wheel for the safety of everyone you share the road with.
The Bike Lane is for Bikes Only
Bike lanes are dedicated safe zones for cyclists and help keep cyclists away from more dangerous traffic traveling in traditional driving lanes.
While cars can’t enter a bike lane, cyclists do not need to stay in the bike lane – particularly if there’s something blocking their path, like branches or debris, or they’re crossing the street or turning – so drivers need to stay aware of cyclists re-entering shared lanes. Pay attention to hand signals informing you of their intent, as well.
Pass on the Left
Most states require cyclists to ride as far to the right of a shared lane as is possible. When you pass, do so slowly, and fully understand the laws of your town and state. For example, Rhode Island permits passing a cyclist only when enough room exists for the cyclist to fall over sideways and not be hit by a vehicle.
Use Your Signals
It’s especially easy to collide into a cyclist when turning left or right. Use your signals to warn cyclists when you’ll be turning and what direction you’re going. If you’re unsure of whether or not you’ll make the turn in time, yield. An extra second or two spent waiting may very well save a life.
Maintain a Safe Distance
To date, 27 states require drivers to maintain at least three feet of distance between their cars and cyclists. A distance of three feet generally allows enough time between identifying a reason to brake and actually braking. Any less than that, and you run the risk of crashing.
Safety First for Cyclists
If I learned anything during that summer in Newport while spending over an hour in traffic to drive only two miles, it’s that patience is key when sharing the road with cyclists (and other motorists, of course). Once I accepted the fact that roads aren’t meant for cars alone and that actual people were on those bikes (and weren’t just slow-moving objects), I became much more cognizant for cyclists’ safety, and my route was much more pleasant (and less profanity-filled) than when it first began.
Being aware of your surroundings – and the cyclists therein – and having patience while driving increases the safety of everyone on the road. After all, we all just want to get where we’re going in one piece.