by Eric Minghella, Esq.
For millions of Americans, cycling is the fastest, safest, and cheapest way to get from point A to point B. Unfortunately, cycling can also be a hazard if it isn’t approached with caution. According to a national study in 2012, there are over 36 unique types of bicycle crashes that can affect an out-an-about cyclist. Luckily, with proper preparation, the majority of all crashes can be avoided.
Before your next ride, learn the top five crash situations for cyclists and how you can avoid them.
1) Wrong-Way Riding (“Salmoning”)
Situation: You’re bicycling on the sidewalk or side of the road against the flow of traffic. Because vehicle drivers do not expect cyclists to be riding against the flow, this puts you at risk for a side-impact crash if the car turns without seeing you, or, worse, a head-on collision.
Solution: Ride with the flow of traffic. Riding against the flow is one of the most dangerous decisions a cyclist can make. While it may seem safer to see cars coming, it puts vehicle drivers at a big disadvantage by giving them much less room to gauge your distance, speed, and overall presence. In addition, most crashes with wrong-way riding are more deadly because both the cyclist and driver have little time to adjust their speeds before a collision. For these and many other reasons, wrong-way riding is illegal in the United States and should be avoided at all cost.
2) Sudden Driveways and Alleyways
Situation: You’re riding your bike along the street when a motorist from your right emerges suddenly from an unseen driveway. Their failure to stop or notice you leaves you with little or no time to get out of the way and avoid the crash. Similarly, a crash can occur in the reverse situation, if you emerge from a hard-to-see driveway and are caught unaware by a motorist on the street.
Solution: Be sure to drive defensively and forever be on the lookout for hidden drives. Even if it means scoping out your bicycle route beforehand or riding slower than usual, it is always better to be safe than in a dangerous situation. In general, it is also best to ride more to the left than you typically would, to give you more room to make yourself known to other nearby motorists.
3) Red Lights and Stop Signs
Situation: You’re approaching an intersection (or already in one) when you notice a car running a light or stop sign. Their speed and lack of attention leaves you no time to avoid what is potentially a very dangerous crash.
Solution: It is impossible to know when you will or will not encounter a motorist who breaks the law in such a dangerous way. However, there are general precautions you can take to be as prepared as possible. Try to communicate boldly and often with others drivers using waves, eye contact, verbal cues, or cycling signals. Even when you have the right of way, be sure to check for cars and stay alert to be sure it is safe to proceed.
4) Left Turns and Blind Spots
Situation: You’re passing through the crosswalk when a car turns left on their traffic signal light, failing to notice you before passing through the same crosswalk. Or, you may be making a right turn or passing through a separate crosswalk and the driver of a car doesn’t notice you in his/her blind spot, causing the driver to either cut you off or crash into your side.
Solution: As usual, stay as alert as possible when riding, especially when passing through intersections or crosswalks. Even if you have the right of way, know which positions are most difficult for motorists to notice, especially those that are far from left turns or near the blind spot on a car’s right side. Especially when trying to turn right around other vehicles, do your best not to stay on the right. When in doubt, wait behind a car and obey the same laws of traffic they follow to ensure you are best seen.
5) Getting Hit From Behind
Situation: You’re riding your bicycle along the road when a car approaches too quickly from behind, the driver either trying to pass you or simply not noticing you are there. This causes the vehicle to either clip your bicycle from the back, along the side or crash into you completely.
Solution: Depending on the time of day, be sure to wear clothing that alerts other motorists of your presence. This means wearing fluorescent or neon colors during the day, and wearing reflective colors during the night. Rear and fronts lights are also a very positive investment, especially when riding at night or near hard-to-see areas. [BikeNewark editorial note: At and after dusk and before dawn, front lights and back reflectors are required by law in Delaware.]