Cycling is a popular activity in the Triangle. Solo and in packs, some riders clock dozens of miles in a single outing. And then there are those who ride shorter distances – some bike to work, while some are casual riders.
But roads are especially dangerous for cyclists, with traffic fatalities for cyclists increasing 19 percent nationally from 2010 to 2013, the most recent year of available statistics.
Steven Goodridge, the N.C. Bicycle Club’s education officer, has worked with local police departments on traffic safety for cyclists. The most common violations that lead to crashes, he says, are cyclists who go against traffic, don’t use lights, or fail to yield at cross streets or driveways. Motorists, he says, are at their most dangerous turning left in front of cyclists, emerging from a side street while a bicycle has the right-of-way on the main road, trying to pass bikes in narrow lanes, or driving drunk, distracted or reckless.
Yet there are ways for cyclists to stay safe – or at least minimize risk. We collected safety tips for both cyclists and motorists from Goodridge, plus David Zell of Raleigh’s Oak City Cycling Project; Tim Pflaum and Evan Brigham of Raleigh’s Oaks and Spokes; and Tyler Kober of Bullseye Bicycle in Durham.
Tips for cyclists:
▪ Know the DMV laws and follow them – just as if you were driving a car.
▪ Ride with traffic, not against it.
▪ Get a helmet that fits and wear it.
▪ Use lights at night. State law requires a front lamp visible from 300 feet and a rear, red-beam “reflex mirror or lamp” visible from 200 feet.
▪ Make eye contact with motorists at intersections.
▪ Signal when you’re going to turn, change lanes, or stop.
▪ Be predictable and conspicuous. Make deliberate, obvious movements.
▪ Ride on the road, not the sidewalk. Bicycling on the sidewalk can be unsafe for pedestrians, but it is legal in Raleigh. Use the sidewalk when the road is unsafe, but don’t make it a habit.
▪ Know when to take the center of the lane. If there isn’t enough room to ride safely on the right, it can be dangerous to marginalize yourself by doing so.
▪ Keep at least 5 feet away from parked cars, as doors can open suddenly.
▪ Don’t pass on the right at stop signs or red lights. Get in line with everyone else.
▪ Don’t run red lights.
▪ Never listen to earbuds or talk on the phone while cycling.
▪ Don’t assume that a driver will see you. Motorists typically scan for other cars – not bikes.
▪ If cycling late at night, assume all motorists are drunk and ride accordingly. And don’t ever ride if you’re intoxicated.
Tips for motorists:
▪ Share the road. Cyclists have a right to it, too.
▪ Change lanes to pass cyclists. Don’t try to squeeze past them.
▪ Look both ways at sidewalks and crosswalks. Don’t treat these differently from other intersections.
▪ Double-check a cyclist’s speed before entering the road or turning in front of them.
▪ At right turns where bike lanes are present, merge safely into the bike lane before taking the turn.
▪ Pass bikes at a reasonable speed. Passing too slowly can be just as dangerous as passing too fast, as it takes longer.
▪ Don’t be afraid to pass when appropriate. Tailgating a bicycle can be dangerous and unnerving to the cyclist.
▪ Don’t pass bikes aggressively or unpredictably.
▪ Use your horn only when necessary. Honking can startle the cyclist and cause him or her to move unpredictably.
▪ Use your turn signals.
▪ Ride a bike yourself so you understand a cyclist’s point of view.
By the numbers
▪ In 2013, 743 cyclists were killed nationwide, up from 623 in 2010.
▪ The average age of those killed in 2013 was 43, and nearly a quarter of them had a blood alcohol content above the legal limit.
▪ 83 percent of those killed were male.
▪ More than half were killed between 3 p.m. and midnight, and most deaths occurred in urban areas.
▪ In North Carolina the same year, 22 cyclists were killed in traffic accidents. There were 23 deaths in the state in 2010, 25 in 2011 and 23 in 2012.
Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; NC DOT
▪ Watch For Me NC is a great resource for cycling safety tips and crash facts: watchformenc.org
▪ May is National Bike Month. WalkBikeNC has a calendar of biking events, bike route recommendations and much more: walkbikenc.com
▪ N.C. Bikeways has great maps for biking your way across the state: ncbikeways.com
▪ The N.C. Bike Club, based in Wake County, has ride calendars and links to good local biking resources: ncbikeclub.net