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Safety Tips

Careful bike commuting

March 1, 2009

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As temperatures begin to warm up, more people may take advantage of the weather and bike to work rather than drive or take public transportation. Although bike commuting is economical, environmentally friendly and a great way to get exercise, it can also be dangerous if bikers are not careful and mindful of the rules of the road. Washington state’s Department of Transportation offers these tips to keep bike commuters safe:

  • Obey traffic signs and signals. When on the road, bicyclists are required by law to follow the same rules as vehicular traffic.
  • Never ride against traffic. Riding on the right side of the street makes you more clearly visible to oncoming motorists.
  • Follow lane markings. Do not make left-hand turns from the right lane or proceed straight in a turn-only lane. This increases your chance of being struck by a motorist that is following lane rules.
  • Use hand signals. This will help inform motorists and pedestrians of your intentions to avoid collisions.
  • Do not pass on the right. Motorists likely will not be on the lookout for a bicycle to pass on the right side of their vehicles.
  • Be aware of the road behind you. Learn to look over your shoulder to scan the road without swerving, or consider installing side-view mirrors.
  • Always keep both hands ready to brake. Having only one hand on the brake may not enable you to stop quickly enough. In rainy weather, allow extra distance for braking.
  • Wear a helmet and never ride with headphones or ear buds. Helmets have been proven to protect riders against serious head injuries. Headphones drown out vital street noises and distract you from the task at hand.
  • Dress appropriately. Wear brightly colored clothing so you are easily visible to motorists. Also, consider the weather when dressing, making accommodations for the possibility of rain and dressing in layers for any temperature fluctuations.
  • Ride in the middle of the lane in slower traffic. At busy intersections and whenever you are moving at the same speed as vehicular traffic, stay in the center of the lane for safety.
  • There are two options for turning left: Signal to move into the left lane and turn the same as a vehicle would do, or ride to the far-right crosswalk and walk your bike across the street.
  • Make eye contact with drivers. Always assume drivers cannot see you unless you have made eye contact and you are certain they are aware of your presence.
  • Be on the lookout for road hazards such as gravel, ice, sand, debris or parallel-slat sewer grates. Cross railroad tracks at right angles only.
  • Use lights and rear reflectors at night. A white headlight on the front of the bike will help make you more visible to oncoming traffic.
  • Keep your bike in good working order. Be sure your bike fits you properly and perform all necessary routine maintenance. In particular, be sure brakes and tires are in good shape.

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