How Drivers Can Coexist With Bicyclists
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- Cyclists are defenseless
- Cyclists' rights
- Drivers benefit
- Turning right
- Turning left
- Be aware
- Opening doors
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For drivers to safely co-exist with bicyclists, they have to acknowledge a few things: cyclists are here to stay, they have rights and responsibilities on the road, and they are uniquely vulnerable, more so than automobile drivers.
The unfortunate truth is that every year thousands of cyclists are injured and hundreds die in collisions with cars. To make the roads safer for both cyclists and drivers, both parties need to learn how to co-exist to make America’s roads safer for everyone.
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Read on to learn how to live with—and even appreciate—the bicyclists who share our roads.
Cyclists are on a bike and are defenseless
As a driver, it is important to acknowledge the awesome power in your hands—you’re piloting a two-ton metal machine, while cyclists are riding a bike that weighs roughly 20 pounds.
In a bike vs. car collision, the bicycle (and often its rider) are always the losers, sometimes with deadly consequences.
With bicycles growing in popularity and increasing in number on our roads, that means both younger and older riders are taking their bicycles onto the streets. Keep in mind that older riders might be more susceptible to injury, all the more reason to be careful.
Also, while a car will always win a race against a bicycle, bikes are faster than you may realize. They can sneak up behind your car or appear in an intersection in the blink of an eye, leaving little time for a driver to react.
Always be on the lookout for cyclists when you’re driving.
Key Takeaway Cyclists often have no protection beyond the helmets on their heads, so always be mindful when driving near cyclists on the road.
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Cyclists have rights, too
Bicycles are considered vehicles and are subject to the same rules and regulations, and carry the same rights as automobile drivers on the road.
Also, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, cyclists over 10 years of age should ride their bikes on the road (not the sidewalk) and be treated as if they were a car.
As a driver, you’re obligated to be mindful of cyclists when on the road, especially when turning, merging, and opening your car doors after parking on the street.
Key Takeaway Bicycles should be regarded as if they are another car on the road, and cyclists need to be treated with the same respect given to those driving a car.
Adjust the way you look at bicycles
As a driver, it is easy to be annoyed by a cyclist, but remember—cyclists are entitled to using the road as much as an automobile driver is.
It is also a good idea to remember that cyclists are people—not nuisances. You might be surprised to learn that a good friend or family member is an avid cyclist. If heaven forbid, they were involved in an accident with a car, imagine the devastation you would feel.
Even if you don’t know the cyclists zipping around on the roads, keep in mind that they are people too, and should be respected accordingly.
Drivers benefit from cyclists
Believe it or not, drivers benefit from having more bicycles on the road, as one cyclist means one less car on the road. That means less traffic and less pollution in our cities.
Also, cyclists might be in a driver’s way for only a fleeting moment, unlike the cars you’re stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic with. Who knew bicycles could benefit car drivers as well?
Watch your right turns
While reflecting on your newfound appreciation for cyclists, don’t forget about them on the road—right turns can be particularly fraught for cyclists.
Intersections are known to be car-bike collision hotspots, especially when cars are making right turns. If a driver doesn’t check their blind spot—boom, a cyclist can plow into the side of the car.
So, as a rule of thumb, always check your blind spot when making a right turn. This simple act can be the difference between a smooth, uneventful ride and a devastating accident.
Also, keep an eye out for cyclists signaling their intent to turn. When a cyclist raises their left arm in a square posture, they are indicating a right turn.
Key Takeaway Intersections are particularly dangerous for cyclists, so be mindful as you’re making right turns and check your blind spot.
And your left turns
As with right turns, always be on the lookout for cyclists passing through an intersection when you’re making a left turn while driving.
If you see an oncoming bicycle while waiting to turn, don’t assume you’ll be able to clear the intersection—cyclists are faster than you may realize, and a second’s hesitation can result in an accident.
If in doubt, wait a few seconds, withstand the honking of the drivers behind you, and yield to the cyclist coming your way.
Key Takeaway Cyclists are often faster than expected, so yield to them and give them space to pass.
Three feet of clearance
As a general rule, drivers should always give cyclists a wide berth, or about three feet.
In fact, more than 20 states have passed laws mandating that drivers give cyclists at least three feet of space on the roadway.
While not exact, this rule gives both drivers and cyclists a solid frame of reference of how much space to give each other in order to stay safe.
Also, drivers should always exercise caution when passing cyclists on the road. Pass by slowly and smoothly—don’t speed up, drive aggressively, or honk when you’re passing by.
Key Takeaway Always give cyclists at least three feet of space when passing them in your car.
Be aware and put the phone down
With more bicycles on the roads, it is imperative to be aware and avoid using your phone while driving.
Too often, drivers say the same thing after coming to terms with the fact that they’ve hit a cyclist, "I didn’t see them coming."
Keeping distractions at bay while driving benefits everyone—drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians. With more cyclists on the roads and more pedestrians filling the sidewalks, everyone will be better off, and safer, being mindful of their surroundings.
MORE: Points on driving record
Don’t door anyone
Just like it’s important to be mindful when driving, you also need to pay attention when exiting a car—your open car door poses a serious danger to cyclists passing by.
Getting doored is a cyclist’s worst nightmare. If a cyclist is riding down the road alongside a row of parked cars, they can be thrown over their handlebars and into traffic if an oblivious driver flings their door open without a care in the world. Cyclists have been killed after being flung into traffic this way.
Always be mindful when opening your car door after parking on the street, and check for cyclists in your mirror and over your shoulder before exiting your vehicle.
Key Takeaway Cyclists are at your mercy when you open your car door after parking, so always look before getting out of your car.
Bikes are here to stay
The number of cyclists on our roads is going to increase, so we need to get used to them, acknowledge them, and treat them as an equal vehicle on the road.
The better drivers treat cyclists (and vice versa), the better off everyone will be.
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