Safety on the Road
Last week, I experienced something new. I never thought that this would happen. It was an event that really made my heart race. It wasn’t a good thing though. I was hit by a car.
I was stopped at a red light behind a car. When the light turned green, I quickly started up and entered the intersection. I was 75% of the way through following the car in front. Just as the car in front passed through, a car from the right ran the red and drove right into me! Shortly after, the driver sped off refusing to give me her info, insurance, or license.
I am going to stop right there. All the information above is already in the police report. These are just a statement of facts. The case remains unresolved.
So, how do you make sure this never happens to you? I cannot say for certain that you can, but surely you can do some things to make sure that you have a good chance of avoiding an unnecessary accident.
I am not anti-driver, but I do notice lots of things on the bike that I would not notice from my car. The number of folks texting and playing with their cell phones is horrifying. I know that even I am guilty of touching my phone at times while it is mounted on the dash, changing songs, etc…. I can also say that it is not just the young people anymore who are guilty of this. In fact, I see more middle-aged adults texting while driving every day.
I see lots and lots of earbuds in drivers' ears lately. I realize that people take calls this way, but it cannot be as safe as using a Bluetooth connection through the car audio. And, the number of folks I see and hear screaming in emphatic phone conversations is probably as scary as those texting while driving.
Another thing I notice often is the smell of marijuana smoke emanating from cars. I cannot for the life of me understand how anyone could possibly smoke or allow someone else to smoke pot while the car is in motion (or parked for that matter). I am not exaggerating when I say I smell this four to five times a week while on city routes, and it is coming from the cars! (I was working on this post before I left work, and while headed home I rode by a car and...yes, it happened).
The number of cyclists who are beeped at by drivers, sworn at, or harassed seems to be on the rise as well. I constantly see posts about people having run ins with angry motorists. Some have even been “coal rolled” while riding in the country. Look it up. Unreal. (Okay, click here, I looked it up for ya).
The last thing I notice more than ever is the rush! I have a simple one-mile commute to work in a small and densely populated residential neighborhood, and I cross ten to twelve “all way” stop sign marked intersections. The number of people who roll these signs is amazing. I saw ten cars on the way in today, and at least two rolled the stop signs without ever coming to even a pause. The number of beeps from cars at lights and behind folks at stop signs also seems to be at an all time high. Everyone is in a rush.
So, what was the point of all this above? Are you afraid? You should be, but hopefully not too afraid to just up and quit riding all together. I think it is critical that you know what you are up against when you are out on the road. None of these tips can guarantee your safety, but I bet you will be safer than if you ignore them.
Some tips for safe riding
Be Aware of Human Vision and Its Limitations- I recently read about an article published by a British fighter pilot on eyesight and its limitations. John Sullivan, an avid cyclist, explained how what he has learned from his pilot training can help us on the road. Lots of his theories revolve around peripheral vision and what our brain processes. Our eyes are not evolved to see while driving, they are still more attuned to be successful hunting or chasing prey. Lots of what we see is in our peripheral vision and there are skips that take place as we scan. If a driver simply sees us in their peripheral vision, they might not see us at all. A cyclist is not a big enough object to be seen, as the eyes skip over segments and reprocess leaving the cyclist’s image in the blanks. Peripheral vision is quite good at noticing changes in motion, but two vehicles moving at just the right acceleration towards a collision may not end up seeing each other at all. Read the original article here.
Be seen- Wear brightly colored socks, jerseys, helmets, and shoes. The more motion you create, the better the chance that a driver will see you. Neon socks or shoes are actually a great way to be seen, as the motion of the rotating foot is more clearly seen than the steady neon helmet or bike.
Be flashy- According to Trek, 80% of accidents occur in the daytime. Always use day-time lights, and make sure they flash in a random pattern. This makes you 2.4x more noticeable than when running no lights, and 1.4x more noticeable when running a steady light. Make sure your lights are bright enough for daytime use. I can say from experience that the Bontrager Ion and Flare are excellent for this use. I was not running a front daytime light when I was hit. Would that have helped protect me from the driver running the light? Who knows, but it would not have hurt. See the Trek website for more information.
Be hard-headed- Wear a helmet. Make sure it fits properly and connect the straps. Replace old or dented helmets. How fast you ride has nothing to do with your need for a helmet. There are some studies that show that drivers ride closer to helmeted riders, and some that say they do not prevent as many injuries as believed. I believe that a helmet will reduce traumatic brain injuries. Period.
Be a head turner- Based on Sullivan (above) and other research, I highly recommend turning your head slowly at stops and looking both ways twice. You will see more clearly than by giving only a quick glance. Also, when looking behind, tuck your chin into your chest a little, as this will help you avoid swerving into traffic. Hold your line.
Be a sprinter- Embrace stop signs. The more stop signs you roll, the more chance you have of getting blasted. Altering your speed will help cars see you better as they approach. Slow way down or stop and then sprint through when clear. Starting and stopping isn't the worst thing for building power.
Be a planner- Plan a safe route. After my accident, my brother-in-law told me "I never ride there anymore. Those _____ drivers are all crazy." Every region has its bad drivers, but it is true that many seem to be in the same area. Look for good roads and good drivers. I am much more likely to ride south lately, as I am realizing most of my troubles on the bike with drivers are from riding in the more densely populated the Northtowns.
Also, note bad intersections and avoid them if possible. If not, be extra careful when you approach them. My neighborhood has Parkside and Tacoma, which I have to say is about the worst stop in the whole City! I cannot avoid it, but I sure as hell know when it's coming up!
Be on the look-out- Look for drivers to open their doors ahead of you. Look ahead for pedestrians. Look for turn signal lights and white back-up lights. Look for people just sitting in their cars. Look for wheels on cars turned outwards. Maybe the driver is about to move out into traffic and into you!
Be attentive- If you want to listen to music, get on the trainer and stay inside. And stop watching your power numbers! (Yeah, that second one's more for me than you). You can be distracted just like drivers can! I know I take a lot of selfies on the bike, but I swear I look around well before I do them.
Be in a group- Larger groups that ride safely are much more likely to be seen. Take advantage of the fun of group rides and go with someone else. Be mindful of your lights in these groups, as in close proximity they can be distracting to the rider directly behind you. In big groups, it is often good to have someone with a good light stay back and be the caboose. In small groups, it is a little more confusing, but just be aware. Hopefully, the size of the group will trump the need for the lights.
Be friendly- Just re-read the “Drivers” section above. When I am out on the road, I assume that every driver I see is angry, distracted, and in a hurry. I also assume that they could really care less about my safety. When I get a friendly wave-on or stop, I always make sure to emphatically say THANK YOU, even if I had the right of way. The wave or smile surely makes the drivers more aware that you are there. Maybe this will save the next cyclist down the road.
Be cynical- Never assume that drivers are going to follow the traffic laws or act sensibly. Never assume that a red light means that someone won’t plow right through it. Never assume that a car with no signal isn’t turning, and never assume that a car with a signal on is actually turning. Never assume that a driver can see you or has seen you. Never assume that ONE WAY means no one is coming the wrong way. I live on a one way street and constantly look both ways, as I see drivers going the wrong way "cutting through" constantly.
Be aware of body language- When you see a driver attempting to enter the road, look at their body language. Do they notice you, do they look annoyed, did they clearly turn their head to see you, and are they going to wait? You can learn a lot. If the driver’s head does not clearly turn and focus on you, chances are that you might be overlooked.
Be intentional- Also, be mindful of your body language. If you are stopped at a light and ready to grab a drink, make sure you clearly signal your intentions. I think that drivers that do not know what you are going to do are more dangerous. Make sure you are prepared to ride or wave them on.
Be clear when signaling- Over emphasize your signaling when in traffic. Make sure to clearly point your turns out and designate when you are turning into traffic. Over exaggerating this is better than simply flashing a sign and moving on. Give drivers a chance to recognize what your hand signal means.
Be a bike handler- Nothing will keep you safer than good bike handling when things get dicey. When I got hit, I skid the back tire several feet, did a track stand, hit the hood, and then back to a track stand before I was able to unclip and put a foot down. I honestly still don't know how I did it, but I know years of experience made the difference. Work on your bike handling and stopping, turning and bunnyhopping. It might save your butt someday.
Be prepared to document- A cheap action camera (GoPro or copy) or Cycliq light and camera combo can help you document a crash if God forbid that happens to you. In the case of my crash, I was fortunate enough to have a witness, but with blood and adrenaline rushing to your head after a crash, it is hard to get the plate right in the case that the driver runs. A camera can document that well. If you have a smartphone, use it to snap some pictures before it is too late. Get the names and phone numbers of all the witnesses at the crash site.
Be adventurous- I would be negligent if I didn't say that sometimes the safest riding is best done off-road. Try mountain biking or gravel riding which take you to more remote areas. Your chances of running into traffic here are slim to none. I know this isn't a safety tip for the road, but the less you ride on the road the less likely you will have trouble on it!
I wish you safe riding! I hope you never have to experience the physical or emotional anguish of an accident any time soon. Please send me your tips for safe cycling, and I will be sure to post them! Thanks.