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Tips for Cyclists and Motorists to Safely Share the Road Together

Enjoy DC-metro Area Bike to Work Day and Ride Safe
May 16, 2014

Friday, May 16, 2014 is the DC Metro area’s “Bike to Work Day.”  The Washington Area Bicyclist Association estimates that more than 10,000 area commuters will ditch their cars and ride their bikes to work that day. 

Although Friday will certainly see a spike in bicycle traffic on the roads, recent Census data reveal that daily bicycle commuting has increased by 60% in the country’s 50 largest cities in the last decade and now makes up 1% of all commuters in the country

The number of bikes sharing the roads with cars will continue to increase in the coming years, and both bicyclists and motorists will need to take care to share the roads in harmony.

Several common scenarios account for the majority of auto bike collisions.

Right Turn on Red

A frequent collision scenario is when a motorist is waiting at a red light or stop sign to turn right.  The driver’s attention is riveted to the left, looking for a break in oncoming traffic. The driver does not notice a bicyclist or pedestrian stepping off the curb to his right to cross in front of the stopped car.  The bicyclist has the right of way, but that is little comfort when the car accelerates into her.

Left Cross

Motorist and bicyclist on the same road approaching the intersection from opposite directions.  The motorist fails to see the cyclist and makes a left turn into her.

Right Hook

Motorist and bicyclist on the same road approaching the intersection going in the same direction.  The motorist passes the cyclist on the left and turns right into the bike's path.

The Overtaking

A motorist hits a cyclist from behind.

As we all know, when a car strikes a bicyclist, it is an unfair fight – the human body is simply not designed to withstand two tons of metal.  Until a clever engineer designs a practical bicycle airbag system, the only way to be safe on a bike is to avoid the collision.  Fortunately, there are a few simple rules that both bicyclists and motorists can follow to greatly reduce the number of collisions.

For Cyclists

  1. Obey the rules of the road. You have the right to be on the road and all the responsibilities that go with that right.  Do not weave in and out of traffic. Do not run stop signs or red lights.
  1. Practice defensive cycling.  Always assume that the driver does not know you are there. Do not cross in front of any vehicle until you have made eye contact with the driver. 
  1. When on a bike, wear bright clothing. Anything you can do to make yourself more visible is good, including headlights, taillights, blinking warning lights, reflectors. If you think it does not look cool, imagine how cool you will look lying unconscious in an intersection.
  2. Carry a whistle. If you cannot get the driver’s attention by gesture, give them a sharp blast of sound. Once they turn toward you, make the eye contact.
  3. In addition to the whistle and have a bell on your bike. Always ring the bell when approaching an intersection. If the driver does not turn toward you, use the whistle.

For the Motor Vehicle Driver

  2. Remember that cyclists have the same right as you to use the road.  Be patient and give them a wide berth.  nderstand that the ten seconds you are delayed by safely negotiating around them is nothing compared to the years of grief you will feel if you kill them.
  3. Practice consciously looking back to your right before making a right turn on red. You will be surprised how unnatural it feels at first.  Scan the sidewalks to your right as you approach a controlled intersection and make note of approaching pedestrian and bike traffic. Both the sidewalk on the road you are on and the sidewalk on the road you plan to turn on may have foot traffic that will use the crosswalk in front of your car.

As an added precaution, you can use one of the small friction labels I have made that sticks on the driver’s side window so when the driver looks to the left for a clearing in traffic, she is reminded to look back to the right before proceeding.  If anyone wants some, let me know.

Bicyclists, pedestrians and motor vehicles can share road space safely if all concerned pay attention to everyone on the road and anticipate the actions of others. These simple steps can reduce injuries at intersections and make Northern Virginia a safer place for all.

Happy Friday, everyone. Ride Safe. 


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