May is National Bike Safety Month. As the weather warms and the days grow longer, people of all ages will dust off their handlebars, grease their chains and pedal around the neighborhood, to work or down mountains.
Unfortunately, this also means there is greater risk of traffic accidents involving cyclists. In fact, in our home state of Maryland, 63 percent of all bicyclist crashes occur between May and September.
When a car and a bike collide, it’s rarely good for the cyclist. As drivers of much more powerful and dangerous vehicles, we must do our part to help prevent these crashes.
Right of Way
While bicycle right of way laws differ state-to-state, some common regulations are:
- A cyclist has full and sole right of way in a bike lane. An automobile may not travel in a bike lane and can only cross it at designated locations.
- If there is no bike lane, a cyclist should travel as close to the right side of the lane as is safely possible.
- If traveling to the right side of the lane isn’t possible, a bike has the right of way to the full lane.
- If a cyclist is in a lane where it’s too narrow for a car to pass with three full feet of space, the cyclist can take the lane.
So while you might not like the fact that a rider is going 15mph and taking up the entire lane, they have every right to do so. Just relax and consider it more time to listen to your favorite song that just came on the radio.
Three feet. That is the minimum distance you need to allow when passing a bicycle on the road.
You should always give riders as much room as you safely can. Check for oncoming traffic and for any potential obstacles that might cause the rider to veer more into the center of the lane.
Pay extra caution when passing near an intersection or when you are about to make a right turn. The rider could be going straight and not have time to react to your turn. Cutting them off could easily make them lose control of their bike in an attempt to avoid collision or not give them enough time to avoid slamming into the side of your car.
We’ve all seen a movie scene where someone opens a car door, a cyclist hits it and goes flying. In the movie, the rider usually gets up, dusts off and goes about their business.
In real life, the situation isn’t funny. It can be deadly serious. Plus, once you open your door into a lane of traffic, you are at fault for any accidents that occur.
If you’re parking on a busy street, double-check your mirrors for bikes as well as cars. They can be tricky to see, but making the effort will save your wallet and maybe their life.
As with any other driving situation, being aware of your surroundings is critical to prevent bicycle-related accidents. Put down the phone and minimize distractions. Keep an eye out for low-profile vehicles (bike, scooters and motorcycles) and pedestrians.
Most accidents are preventable if you’re paying attention. So, keep your eyes sharp and share the road. You’d want others to do the same when you’re riding your bike.