Bicycles are a part of road life. A good one. They leave no carbon footprint. They don’t take up valuable parking spaces and they reduce traffic congestion. They take kids to school. They make deliveries.
But when a motor vehicle and a bike meet, the cyclist is at a disadvantage. According to the National Safety Council, the number of preventable deaths from bicycle transportation has increased 44% in the last ten years, from 873 in 2011 to 1,260 in 2020. There’s only so much a cyclist can do for protection, wearing a helmet, obeying the traffic signs, and riding defensively by going with the flow and assuming that drivers don’t see them.
Drivers, it’s on us to keep them safe on the road! The first rule is to give them room, a minimum of three feet. In 20 states, it’s the law and it’s a good rule to follow. Yield to bikes as you would another car. Never underestimate the speed of a bike! When making a turn, don’t assume that you have clearance. An oncoming bike could travel 15 to 20 miles an hour, as you make a left turn. The bike you passed a few blocks ago may have caught up to you as you make a right turn.
Pass bicycles the same way you would another vehicle. Remember, too, that sound is muffled by your car. The gentle honk you might make before passing can be very loud and startling to a cyclist! Lay off the horn if you can and allow enough room.
Pay attention to cyclist hand signals. Just like you, a cyclist must indicate turns. An extended left arm means the rider is turning left. A bent left arm pointed up indicates a right turn, while a bent arm pointing down is a stop.
Just as you should check your mirrors before turning or merging, look before you open your car door. Many roads have no dedicated bike lane, so riders hugging the right side can be knocked over or injured by your car door.
You can get tips from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and watch a video for drivers at their Bicycle Safety site. The League of American Bicyclists also offers a free online safety course developed by the City of Fort Collins, Colorado, to educate motorists about how and why cyclists use the roads the way they do to help us understand how we travel safely together.