May is a big month for bicyclists everywhere; around the country, National Bike to Work events happen in nearly every major metropolitan area. Whether it’s a single Bike to Work Day or an entire week of commuting via pedal-power, you or folks you know will bravely venture out into traffic on two wheels, with naught but a foam and plastic helmet and Spandex for protection. For those who do, we here at I Drive Safely salute you. And we want to help you have a safe Bike to Work experience by addressing drivers who’ll be sharing the roads with you. Listen up, drivers: there’s some things you need to do to help keep your two-wheeled fellow travelers safe.
Share the road? Yep.
As a reminder, nearly every state recognizes that bike riders have just as much right to be on surface streets as you do. While dedicated bike lanes are becoming more and common, especially in urban areas that boast a high concentration of both motorists and cyclists, bicyclists in most states are allowed to take the lane as needed. This means that sometimes you’ll need to be patient with them. One of the most common causes of bicycle accidents: being cut off by a car passing the cyclist and then making a right-hand turn. Here’s where sharing can prevent injury and even save a life – if you’re coming up on that right-hand turn and a cyclist is in front of you, hang back and let them do their thing.
Follow the rules of the road – even if you’re trying to be nice.
Yes, the rules of the road apply to cyclists – they need to stop at red lights and stop signs, and they really should use signals. Speaking of which: do you know all of the hand signals that cyclists use to show drivers as well as fellow cyclists their intentions? No? Here they are.
Most cyclists who take to the roads know that the same rules that apply to cars apply to them, and most experienced cyclists peddling through urban areas will follow those rules and will use those hand signals. By doing so, they’re giving you the heads-up, so that you’ll respond accordingly (i.e., not rear-ending them or cutting them off). In return, you should do the same: use your signals when cyclists are on the roads with you, and consider braking a little bit sooner when a cyclist is behind you. And always drive in a predictable manner. A great example of good intentions gone awry: when a driver waves a cyclist through a four-way stop, when it’s actually the driver’s turn to go. This can confuse both the cyclist and any other drivers at that intersection, which can lead to a collision.
Follow The Three Feet Rule.
This one’s pretty straightforward: when passing a bike, keep at least three feet of space between you and the cyclist. Remember that cyclists face roadway hazards that cars simply don’t: that little pothole in the road is nothing to your car’s tires, but hitting it might cause the cyclist to go flying over the handlebars. Giving the cyclist a bit of space to maneuver, even during the brief time in which you’re passing him or her, can prevent serious injuries.
Watch Your Door.
The dangers that cars present to cyclists don’t go away when the car stops moving. “Dooring” is the cycling term for riding into an open car door; it happens when the driver swings his or her door open without first checking to see if there’s a cyclist coming up alongside the car. Getting out of your car when parallel parked on a surface street? Check your rear-view AND side mirrors first.
Being on two wheels – even if your two-wheeled vehicle has a motor – is inherently more dangerous than being on four. But as drivers, we can all do little things to ensure that bicyclists don’t face any more risks than they need to. And when it comes to understanding what it’s like for a cyclist, there’s no substitute for experience – why not try riding your bike to work yourself on Bike to Work Day? We won’t laugh at those bike shorts you’ve been afraid to wear out in public. Promise.