Cycling is one of the best forms of exercise and mode of transportation. It can be enjoyed by people of all ages, from young children to older adults. It is also fun, cheap, and good for the environment. Cycling has been linked with improved cardiovascular fitness, a lower risk for heart disease, and it’s wonderful for toning and building muscles. Cycling is a great low-impact mode of exercise for those with joint conditions. Riding a bike has even been linked to improved mental health.
Millions of people bicycle safely on public roads. However, many are scared away from cycling because motorists sometimes pass too closely, honk, or tell cyclists to get off the road. It is important for both drivers and cyclists to follow the rules of the road and respect each other to keep everybody safe.
Roads with a designated bike lane are the best option for bike riders. Designated bike lanes cannot be blocked by any stationary object nor can motor vehicles drive in a bicycle lane unless to cross the lane for the purpose of making a legal turn. In that case, the driver of a motor vehicle must yield to any bicycle in the lane. Independence ordinance prohibits anyone 13 or older from riding a bicycle on any sidewalk in any district.
Here are five rules of the road for drivers when it comes to driving near bicyclists:
• Know Bicyclists' Rights: According to Missouri law, on public streets and highways, a bicyclist has the same rights and responsibilities as a motor vehicle operator. Motorists must treat bicycles in the same way as any other vehicle. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says cyclists 10 years and older should behave as though they were vehicles on the street, riding in the same direction as other traffic going their way and following the same traffic rules. Traffic laws say that drivers must pass cyclists at a safe distance. When a travel lane is not wide enough to share, bicyclists can move to the middle of the lane to insure that motorists use the next lane over to pass or wait until it is safe.
• Consider the benefits of bicycling for drivers: One cyclist on the road is one less car. They create less pollution and don't wear out the road, which means fewer potholes for you.
• Give cyclists three feet of clearance: Just like any other vehicle on the road, it is best to give bicycles on the roadway at least three feet of space. This will help the cyclists feel safer.
• Look around and don’t be distracted: If drivers only expect other cars on the road, they're setting themselves up for dangerous interactions. Act as though there’s always a cyclist riding near you.
• Accept that bicyclists are here to stay: Bicycling is on the rise. People are taking it up for exercise or to reduce commuting costs. Many cities are seeing an increase in commuter cyclists and bike-friendly road designs. Start looking out for everybody, including other vehicles, cyclists, and pedestrians.
Here are five rules of the road for cyclists riding around cars:
• Inspect your ride: It sounds basic, but, to ride safely, your bike must be in good working order. Check the brakes to ensure they are working, along with inspecting the chain and gears. Inspect the bike before heading out to be sure nothing is loose or falling off. If you don't have to worry about bike parts, you can focus better on the traffic.
• Follow the rules of the road — all of them: You have the same rights and responsibilities as drivers. That means bicyclists must stop for traffic signals and stop signs. Bicyclists should ride with the flow of traffic. Observing the basic speed laws is important. It's possible to speed, especially downhill. When passing motorists, do so in a straight line and make your move smoothly. Otherwise, you may startle drivers into doing something unsafe, like steering into you. As a cyclist, try to ride as near to the right side of the roadway as possible. A person riding a bike may ride on the road shoulder, but they are not required to do so.
• Be safe. Wear a bike helmet every time you ride, even if you are going for a short ride. Cyclists who wear a helmet reduce their risk of head injury or brain injury by nearly 60 percent. That makes sense when you consider that the first body part to fly forward in a collision is usually the head, and, with nothing but skin and bone to protect the brain, the results can be deadly. For the safest helmets, look for a sticker that says it meets standards set by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. It’s also important to make sure your bike helmet fits you properly.
Make sure that you signal before changing lanes or changing your position within a lane. Before merging, changing lanes or turning, scan behind and in front to ensure that it is safe to make this maneuver.
Be extra careful at intersections. Do not assume you have the right-of-way when there is a vehicle approaching. Be aware that drivers may not see you approaching the intersection or may believe that you are moving at a slower speed than you are.
To be seen by motorists, wear bright colors and stay out of a vehicle’s blind spots. When bicycling at night, every bicycle needs a front-facing lamp, a rear-facing red reflector, and reflective material or lights visible from the front, rear, and both sides of the bicycle or bicyclist.
• Be predictable: Many car-bike collisions occur when a bicyclist does something the motorist doesn't expect, such as darting up to an intersection and going straight when it looked to the driver as if the cyclist would turn right. Be as predictable as possible. Signal your turns and stops.
• Disengage from the rage: Road rage against bicyclists, unfortunately, may still occur. Don't react to angry driver behavior. A better plan is to try to get a good look at the person. Although this can be easier said than done, try to get the driver's license plate number. If you sense immediate danger, call 911 and tell the emergency operator the story.
The next time you see a cyclist on the road, remember bicycling safety: give them space and make it safe. As a cyclist on the road, make sure your bike is in working order, can be seen by fellow road users, and follow the rules of the road. For more information on bicycle safety, request a bike safety class, or get resources for safe biking around town, check out Bike Walk KC at http://bikewalkkc.org/.
-- Andrew Warlen, MPH, is the director of the Independence Health Department.