Sincerely Stefanie: Biking Safely in the Summer

June 7, 2019
As the temperature rises, so do hazards associated with warm-weather activities.

I often run in the local park, where the all-purpose trail winds for miles and miles alongside a tree-lined road shared by vehicles and scores of bicyclists.

The number of people I see varies depending on the weather, but it’s not uncommon to see groups of 15 or more cyclists cruising down the road at first sight of spring.

Warm temps mean bikes now more common on roadways, which inevitably means a spike in bike-versus-vehicle accidents.

The most recent records available from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) show there were 5,977 pedestrians and 783 bicyclists killed in crashes with motor vehicles in 2017.

Commuting to work via bicycle has become a rising trend, despite cyclists representing less than 1% of all commuters nationwide. According to a 2014 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), some of the largest cities in the United States have doubled their bike-to-work rates since 2000.

BLS findings show the number of people traveling to work by bike has grown by 60%, from about 488,000 in 2000 to about 786,000 during the 2008-2012 period.

“In recent years, many communities have taken steps to support more transportation options, such as bicycling and walking,” said Brian McKenzie, a Census Bureau sociologist and the report’s author, in a statement. “For example, many cities have invested in bike share programs, bike lanes and more pedestrian-friendly streets.”

Despite the proliferation of worker commuting to work via bike, overall accidents have decreased. However, fatalities in bike versus vehicle encounters have increased, the People Powered Movement (PPM) says.

PPM, an organization dedicated to increasing bicycling across the United States, states that new bicyclists who are less familiar with safe biking practices; drivers who are not using caution when sharing the road with bicyclists, and cities that have not implemented changes to infrastructure to support bicyclist safety are the reasons for the spike in fatalities.

In an incident between a car and a bike, the cyclist almost always will be the one with more severe injuries. Being cognizant of road hazards whether on a bike or in a vehicle can help avoid deadly encounters.

The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons reminds cyclists to:

  • Wear a helmet that fits snugly but does not obstruct vision. It should have a chin strap and buckle that stays securely fastened.
  • Follow the rules of the road. Ride in the direction of traffic. Follow traffic signs and lights. Signal your turns or your intentions so that drivers can anticipate your actions. If you are riding with others, ride single file.
  • Ride defensively. Understand that drivers often do not see cyclists; so, be aware of surroundings and ready to act to avoid a collision.
  • Choose bike routes wisely. Avoid riding on high traffic roads. The most direct route to a destination is often not the safest because more vehicles will also take that route. Select streets with fewer and slower cars.
  • Avoid distracted cycling. Do not listen to loud music with head phones, talk on the phone, text or do anything else that can obstruct hearing and/or vision while riding.
  • Take extra precautions at night. Wear bright fluorescent colors and make sure to have rear reflectors. Both a working tail light and headlight should be visible from 500 ft. away.
  • Never underestimate road conditions. Be cautious of uneven or slippery surfaces.
  • Maintain your bicycle. Check your bicycle’s mechanical components on a regular basis (brakes, tires, gears, etc.), just like you would for a car. 
  • Dress appropriately. Avoid loose clothing that might get caught in the bike’s mechanics and wear appropriate footwear, such as closed toed shoes to decrease your chance of a foot injury. Use appropriately padded cycling shorts for longer rides.

Whether you’re riding for pleasure or commuting, remember to refresh yourself on the rules of the road before hopping on two wheels. For drivers, remember to take a second to double or triple check your surroundings this summer. That extra second could avoid a tragedy.

About the Author

Stefanie Valentic

Stefanie Valentic was formerly managing editor of EHS Today, and is currently editorial director of Waste360.

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