I believe bicycling and bike commuting is very safe if you stay aware of your surroundings. I love to get around town by bike and love when my friends take the plunge to start bike commuting.
The good news for parents, if you are worried about your kid out there on a bike, most bike injuries and fatalities happen to people 20 years and older. The bad news if you are a man in your mid-40s…you better strap on all the body armor you can because you’re most at risk.
Here are some tips based on accident statistics (science!) and my experience:
- Wear a helmet. I’ll admit it feels great to have the breeze flowing through your hair as you cruise down the road, but wearing a helmet will cut your chance of a head injury down by 50%. 83% of bicyclists killed on the road were not wearing helmets. My Mom offered to buy my helmet for me if I wore it and I do. Thanks, Mom! Oh and don’t buy a used helmet. They are only good for one bang (which includes you dropping it from 3 ft or higher).
- Keep your bike tuned up. You should keep your bike in good working order. Let me tell you how much it sucks if your brakes fall off, handlebars fall off, or wheel falls off. In summary, bikes work better when they stay in one piece.
- Don’t ride on the sidewalk. Drivers don’t look/see people riding on the sidewalks. Drivers don’t stop to look for traffic until they get to the street. It is far more hazardous to ride on a sidewalk then in the street. Young children, however, should stick to the sidewalks and be taught to look for cars coming out of driveways. A National Safety Something Agency recommends kids 10 and under stick to the sidewalk.
- Ride with traffic. Many people mistakenly believe it is safer to ride against traffic (so you can see the cars about to hit you?). It is safer to ride with the flow of traffic. Drivers don’t expect other drivers or cyclists coming the wrong way down a street. Most cyclists who are killed were riding against traffic on the sidewalk.
- Avoid riding between 4-8PM. Drivers are angry/tired and want to get home as quick as possible from work. Apparently they are willing to hit cyclists in order to get home faster. Also, it gets dark at this time. Wear lots of lights and reflective clothing so other people can see you.
- Don’t drink and ride. Genius idea to avoid a DUI? Or just a way in increase your odds of injury or death? While in many states you can’t get a DUI on a bike, somewhere around 20% of cyclists injured or killed on a bike had a B.A.C. over 0.08.
- Assume everybody will kill you. This has to do with staying aware of your surroundings. When I ride I always operate as if every car and person around me will not see me. I guess I’m saying to pretend you are invisible, because often you are. Cars will swerve in front of you (especially cab drivers, truck drivers, people texting/eating while driving-FACT: a young lady eating a melty slice of pizza almost hit me 3 times while swerving between lanes), people parking on the street will open their doors as you ride by (leave 3 ft between you and parked cars), pedestrians will suddenly stroll into the street in front of you, and people with dogs on a retractable leash will lose control of their dog and let it run under your wheel.
There you have it. Although 54% of statistics are inaccurate, I think there are some great lessons to take from them. Stay safe out there!