As bicycling continues to grow in popularity across the country, biking advocates have increased their efforts to get bike-friendly street designs incorporated into urban planning. They have also intensified their efforts to educate cyclists about biking safety as a proactive way of reducing accidents and collisions resulting in injuries and fatalities.
Everyone agrees that the best thing bicyclists can do to protect themselves is to wear a helmet. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), helmets are 85 to 88 percent effective in preventing traumatic brain injuries (the injuries most likely to result in long-term disabilities or death).
The NHTSA also encourages bicyclists to follow these safety tips:
- Know the rules of the road: follow traffic laws requiring you to ride with the flow of traffic, obey traffic signs, signal your turns, and yield to pedestrians, etc.
- Be seen: wear reflective clothing, install reflectors on your bike and wear a flashing red light or affix one to your bicycle. Also try to make eye contact with car drivers, so that you and they know each other's position and intentions.
- Be predictable: ride with the traffic and not against it; avoid sudden swerves in and out of traffic.
- Share the streets: ride in bike lanes if they're available; if the road is wide, right on the far right side of it; if the road is narrow, consider riding in the middle of the lane as a motor vehicle would.
- Look back: learn to look over your shoulder while keeping your bicycle in a straight line. In this way, you can see cars and other vehicles coming up behind you while maintaining a steady, predictable path.
- Avoid distractions: stay alert when you're bicycling. Don't wear headphones or talk on a cell phone while riding. Be aware of the traffic ahead of you, next to you and behind you.
- Ride defensively: because you and your bike are considerably smaller and more vulnerable than cars and trucks, use extra caution whenever you're biking near them.
In 2008, just over 700 bicyclists were killed while riding, down significantly from the 1,003 killed in 1975, when there were millions fewer people biking. Yet bicycle injuries have risen sharply recently: going from 43,000 in 2007 to 52,000 in 2008.
Bicycling is a great form of exercise, fun and clean transportation, but bicyclists are smart to be aware of its dangers, too.