With the beautiful Washington sunshine beginning to peek its way through the clouds this summer, many of us will get that renewed urge to take our bicycles out for a ride. To have as much fun as possible, it is important to understand and protect against the risks involved with biking in urban environments. As a Seattle personal injury lawyer and King County car accident attorney, I have dealt with clients in bicycle accidents, and understand the potential hazards we have to face. In 2008, bicycle accidents took 716 lives nationwide. Bicycle injuries are far more common as well, with over 52,000 people getting hurt on a bike in 2008. While these numbers make up a small percentage of total auto-related accidents and fatalities, it can be drastically lowered with certain safety precautions.
Riding a bicycle down the streets in crowded neighborhoods can be very tricky. Cities like Seattle, Tacoma, Bellevue, Spokane, Everett and many others have busy roads that can be tough for a bicyclist to navigate. Through my time working with bicycle accident clients, I have developed a list of my 5 most important pieces of advice to lower the risk of an accident while riding a bike.
1. Stay off the sidewalk: Bicycle lanes are great both for drivers and people on bikes and should always be used when available. When there is no bike lane, however, the legal and safest way to ride your bicycle is in the street. Sidewalks are filled with pedestrians and make the existence of a bicyclist almost non-existent to drivers on the road. There are many potential accidents that can occur this way. The most common would be a situation where you are approaching a crosswalk and a car from the other side of the street is making a left-hand turn. In a sea of pedestrians, a bike can be invisible to a driver. Because of this, the person making the left-hand turn may not be able to recognize your speed on a bike, and turn right into you. Accidents are split-second mistakes, which are made much easier when visibility is altered in some way. Stay on the street, because that is where oncoming traffic can see you.
2. Protect your brain! While it may not be a state law just yet, many cities and counties require bicyclists to wear helmets. Just to name a few, King County, Tacoma, Renton, Puyallup, Spokane, Lakewood and many others have this law in effect. As a personal injury lawyer, I have seen first-hand, just how different the medical repercussions can be between someone wearing a helmet, and someone who is not. Your parents didn’t lie to you back when you were a kid. Studies show that helmet use reduces head injuries by 85%. A helmet can save your life, and also save you some hassle having to deal with insurance not paying for all of your damages.
3. Don’t go against the grain: Riding against traffic may feel just the same or even more comfortable to you than riding with the traffic, but it is much more dangerous. Reaction time is drastically cut down when you are going against the traffic, because both you and the automobiles on the road are approaching each other at fairly high speeds. Riding with the traffic means that cars will be coming at you from behind, which gives them time to make adjustments to you if necessary. A common accident that can occur when riding against traffic is when a car from an intersecting street approaches the one that you are on. If they want to turn right onto your street, they will be looking to their left because that is where all of the cars will be coming from. You, however, would be going against traffic, thus coming from this car’s right. Having not seen you, this is an accident waiting to happen, and the car could turn right into you.
4. Be well lit: If you don’t have a headlight and a flashing backlight, either don’t ride at night, or immediately go to the store and buy them. Without lights, you are just asking to be in an accident. Not only are these lights a very smart idea for night riding, but they are required by law as well. You may have the greatest eyesight in the world and can see at night as if it were the day, but these lights are just as much for drivers on the road as they are for you. Just as it is with driving, riding a bike at night adds risk. Make yourself as noticeable as possible, or just stay in and wait for some sunlight the next day.
5. Stay where they can see you: Probably the simplest steps, saved for last. Riding slow makes your ride safer in two ways. First of all, it is much easier to avoid potholes, or debris in the road when you are going slow, because it gives you time to react to what you see. Riding slow also gives drivers on the road more time to see you before you get to an intersection, or someplace where an accident may occur. Avoiding blind spots on a bike is equivalent to avoiding blind spots in a car when next to a truck. It is not easy for a truck driver to see a car, and it is not easy for a car to see a bicyclist. Avoid a potentially bad situation by staying behind or in front of cars, especially at stoplights.