According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a total of 857 cyclists were killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2018. All of these deaths were preventable. Vehicles clearly have the advantage over cyclists in size, weight, speed and maneuverability. Why then, do so many motorists fail to exercise caution and courtesy when encountering cyclists? Sure, there are some bad apples out there, but the vast majority of cyclists are fine, law abiding people who are commuting to work, riding for exercise, training for charity rides and just out to enjoy the day. More importantly, cyclists are fathers, friends, and daughters and there is always someone who is counting on them to return home safely. Don’t cause a tragedy by failing to heed these important warning tips:
Always be on the look out for cyclists.
This is easier to remember in areas where cyclists are commonly known to ride. However, you may encounter a bicycle virtually anywhere from a city street to a country road.
Bicycles are entitled to ride in the lane of traffic.
Bicyclists are required by law to follow the same traffic laws as vehicles; however, they are also permitted to ride in the lane of travel. This means that they may travel in the same lane as you – in front of you, even if they are travelling slower than you. Most cyclists prefer to ride on the shoulder, however, road conditions sometimes make that impossible or extremely unsafe. If there is a cyclist on the road in front of you, chances are that they will return to the shoulder as soon as it is safe to do so. Just be patient.
If you pass a cyclist, do so safely.
If you insist on passing a cyclist, do it safely. Get as far away from the cyclist as possible and leave plenty of distance in front of them before you return to your lane. Wide mirrors or things hanging off your vehicle can make contact with a cyclist and cause serious injury or death, even if your car doesn’t hit them. A good rule of thumb is to “give them three feet” (i.e. always leave at least three feet between the outside edge of your car and the bike you are passing).
Don’t harass cyclists.
This may seem obvious, but I can’t count the times when I’ve been honked at, yelled at, cursed and threatened– just for riding my bike where I have a lawful right to ride. Sometimes, this even happened when I was training for a ride to raise money for charity – and was wearing my charity’s cycling jersey! There is simply no reason whatsoever to initiate any type of road rage whether it is against another car driver or a cyclist. There isn’t anywhere you need to be soon enough that justifies uncivil behavior.
Pay attention to your surroundings.
This rule applies, regardless of when and where you are driving. You have a legal duty “to see what is there to be seen,” which means you need to be looking! Distractions such as texting, talking on the phone, eating, putting on makeup, reading and talking to people in your vehicle reduce the amount of attention you are paying to your surroundings and the approaching hazards. “I didn’t see you” is never an excuse when you hit someone.
Be careful when backing up or opening your car door.
Parking spaces and parking lots pose a hazard for everyone. Often, you are trying to find a parking space and fit your car into it while other people are walking around and pushing strollers or shopping carts. Add to that a bicycle or two and it gets extremely stressful. Before backing your car, look in the rear view mirror, side mirror and through your windows to see if cyclists are approaching. Back up slowly so that they will have time to react if they approach after you have looked for them. Before opening your car door after parallel parking, look to your left to see if cyclists are approaching on the road. Opening your car door in front of a cyclist is a violation of the law.
Look Left and Right before pulling out onto a road.
Some drivers get so focused on pulling out onto a roadway, especially if the traffic is heavy, that they focus only on finding that one gap in traffic that they call pull into. As a result, although they may look toward the direction of where they are turning, they fail to look the other direction. There may be a cyclist, a pedestrian, or a person in a wheelchair approaching, but the motorist is so focused on finding a gap that they don’t see them. As a result, many cyclists have been injured by cars pulling out into traffic, when they could have easily seen them, if only they had looked.
Yield to cyclists – even if you don’t have to.
Sometimes, cars and cyclists approach intersections at nearly the same time, or cars approach a path where a cyclist is crossing a road. If it is safe for you to do so, yield to the cyclist and let them cross. Many cyclists wear special shoes that clip into their pedals. This allows them to ride more efficiently, but also makes it more difficult for them to stop suddenly without falling.
Driving a vehicle is a huge responsibility and the consequences for failing to follow the law and use caution are enormous. All motorists who have killed or injured cyclists wish it hadn’t happened. However, once the harm is done, it cannot be reversed. Don’t find yourself in this situation. Use caution, exercise patience and be kind to cyclists.