Summer's warm, dry weather brings out bicyclists in droves. Not only is it good exercise, fun and eco-friendly, but with the price of gas, it is very economical, too. However, without good equipment, proper attire and a high level of alertness, it can be dangerous, especially when sharing the road with automobiles.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there were 630 deaths and 51,000 reported injuries from bicycle accidents in the United States in 2009.
Bicycle Accident Statistics
• Collisions with vehicles account for a third of all bicycle accidents resulting in injuries and deaths.
• A bicyclist is killed every six hours in the United States.
• About one million children are injured in bicycle accidents annually.
• 75% of serious injuries and fatalities from bicycle accidents are due to head injuries.
Cars and bicycles have a tenuous relationship on the road. Drivers are focused on looking out for other cars and trucks on the road, and don't always see bicycles. In addition, bicyclists are slower than cars, and can be overtaken before the driver realizes they are there. This can result in accidents -- and the bicyclist almost always comes out the loser in this scenario.
While bicyclists enjoy the same privileges as drivers on non-freeway roadways, they also have the same responsibilities. Stopping at red lights, stop signs, and yielding; signaling all turns; not exceeding the posted speed limit; using the right side of the street and not the sidewalk; and paying attention to the traffic all around them.
In Washington state, bicyclists can ride side-by-side, but only two abreast. If the road has a wide shoulder, use it, but if the curb lane has no shoulder it's best to stay to the left in the far right lane so drivers can more easily see you. Ride in the same direction as traffic and wear proper clothing (bright, flashy and reflective). If riding at night, have a white headlight and a red taillight that are functioning properly. These all help drivers see -- and avoid -- you.
Even though Washington state doesn't require bicyclists to wear approved helmets, the city of Seattle and King County require it. For a complete list of cities that require bike helmets to be worn, go to: http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/bike/helmets.htm.
What to Do After a Bike/Car Crash
If you are unfortunate enough to be hit by a car, take these steps:
• Remain calm and non-confrontational.
• Call the police and insist that the officer files a police report. In the event that an officer does not respond, go to a police station and file an accident report within 72 hours of the incident.
• Get the driver’s insurance information, address, phone number and license plate number.
• Get the name, phone number and address of every witness.
• Have your bike thoroughly inspected by a reputable bike shop.
• If you have a cell phone camera, take photographs of the accident scene, your injuries, your bike and all other involved vehicles.
Sources: WSDOT.wa.gov/bike/laws.htm; National Highway Traffic Safety Administration