Bicycles and Road Safety

Bicycle safety and the public roads have gone through cycles of acceptance and outright rejection over the past two centuries. When first introduced, bicycles were strange devices that scared the horses. As bicycles became safer and more people began riding them, the rules of the road adapted to allow room for the new users of the byways. Then, as other types of newly-invented vehicles began to appear on the roads, conflicts between different types of riders would get resolved, at first, in arbitrary ways and then in rules that favoured one type of vehicle over another.

In fact, from the 1930s on well into the 1960s, policy in Europe and North America concerning the public roads favoured the automobile — there was not only talk but also action for removing cyclists from the roads entirely. For the last quarter of the twentieth century and the beginning of the 21st century, however, the pendulum has swung back to give cyclists a fair shake for use of the public roads.

The principles for riding a bicycle safely require participation by both the cyclist and by those responsible for the public byways. A bicyclist must position their bike on the road to give the bike rider a view of both the road and the other traffic — the position should also keep the bike rider visible to all other riders, whatever their vehicle may be. In conjunction, the road should have indications of the proper lanes for bicycle riding, especially on high-traffic roads.

Rules of the road apply to the cyclist just as much as for any other user of the road. some rules are common to all; others apply only to bicycles. What this means is that a bicyclist should:
o Ride in the same direction as other vehicular traffic, on the same side of the road as that traffic.
o Respect and obey all traffic controls, including, but not limited to stop signs, traffic lights, yield or give way signs and direct orders from any official person acting as a traffic regulator.
o Set up a turn off the road by positioning the bike on and within the correct lane before the turn occurs.
o Understand and respect the “door zone” of vehicles parked parallel at the side of the road.
o Respond to adverse traffic conditions so that a safer condition prevails.
o Ride on the inside of any lane, or that part of the lane closest to the edge of the road, if going slowly.
o Ride on the outside of any lane, or that part of the lane farthest from the edge of the road, if going quickly.
o Stay in control over the sharing of the bicycle lane — don’t be a hog, but don’t try to ride everyone in your group all crossways.
o Look back over both shoulders while riding to check traffic behind you and to notify all about you of your intentions.
o Act like an proper driver of a vehicle on a roadway.

Riding a bicycle, though, is more than just following the rules of the road. Negotiation is a way to describe the path a cyclist takes across the lanes of the road, as opposed to the path along the lane. The word is used in both of its senses, first as performing certain careful actions in order to proceed, as shown by the phrase “negotiating the minefield,” and second as dealing with others to get a preferred result. A bicyclist, when needing to move across the road, looks first in the adjacent lane both ahead and back, to see if there is room for the bicycle. If there is a gap, the cyclist indicates their intention, usually with a arm or hand signal, and steers the bike sideways into that lane only. The process is repeated for each lateral lane move that is required to accomplish whatever the cyclist is trying to do.

Safety equipment is another area of bicycle riding that ensures the well-being of the bicycle rider. Some items will be required by law, depending on your jurisdiction. A bicycle helmet, properly fitted and worn correctly, is a necessity whether it is required legally or not — your skull does not bounce well off pavement. Cycling gloves are useful for maintaining a tight grip on the handlebars. Bright clothing will let other riders and drivers see you at night or in low-visibility conditions, as will flags mounted high, reflective stripes and active headlights, tail-lights and flashers on your bicycle. Padding and, in some cases, body-armour can protect your elbows, knees and shins. Mirrors keeps you aware of everything going on all around you, while horns and bells let other riders and drivers know you are right there next to them or behind them.

One item many people forget about when considering bicycle safety are shoes. Do not ride barefoot or in sandals — the best shoe is one that is closed over the toes, which are the most vulnerable part of the foot when riding a bike.