The numbers of deaths are staggering. In 2014 more than 5,500 cyclists and pedestrians were killed by crashes with cars and trucks. That's just in the US. In the same year, it is estimated that 50,000 bicyclists were injured.
Countless deaths and injuries could be prevented if motorists would shed their negative bias toward cyclists. Too often, motorists are intolerant of cyclists, refuse to try to understand or empathize with them, and think only selfishly. The concept of “sharing the road” or accepting the diversity of other non-motorized users on our roads is recurrently missed altogether. Innumerable cyclists have found motorists holding deep-seated prejudice toward them.
Some common examples of this anti-cycling bias include:
- Many motorists believe people riding bicycles should stay on the sidewalk, and are safer there. This is simply wrong. Cyclists are almost always safer on the roads. They are legally entitled to be on the road.
- Motorists often believe people riding bicycles should have a lower priority on the roads than motorists – as the cyclists are just “trying to have fun” and are not an important means of basic transportation. Bicycles are considered “toys” or “trinkets” and of little real value.
- Motorists frequently believe cyclists only block their path and slow them down to their destination. To these drivers, “sharing the road” means that bicyclists can use the road solely when they don’t interfere with the fastest route available to motorists.
- Some motorists believe that if a person is crazy enough to ride a bicycle in traffic, then he/she “deserves whatever happens”.
Motorists could prevent a large number of accidents with bicycle riders if they would try to consider the bicycle riders’ needs, and follow a few basic Golden Rules for getting along safely with them:
- Learn the Traffic Laws that Apply to Bicyclists
In Florida, the most basic tenet of the law applying to cyclists is that they BICYCLES ARE TREATED AS VEHICLES. People riding bicycles are legally entitled to use the roads, except for limited access highways. Motorists MUST share the road with them. This very commonly means bicyclists may “take the full lane” of the road and are not required to ride to the far right. The law in Florida requires drivers to respect bicyclists, and this is a must. Cyclists must be passed at a safe distance. Cyclists may also use the sidewalk – motorists must look for cyclists on both the road and on the sidewalk. Motorists must look for traffic that is somewhat slower moving and smaller than their vehicles, and should anticipate the cyclists’ movements.
- See Cyclists Differently
Motorists should see the benefits to them of bicycling, even if they personally choose not to ride a bike. Every additional bicyclist means the roads are less cluttered and clogged. Cyclists lessen traffic congestion. It is actually other motorists that slow down frustrated drivers, not a few cyclists. People who ride bicycles reduce pollution and make a smaller earth footprint. The safest facilities provided for cyclists, such as bike lanes and cycle paths, are far less expensive to construct than roads built for motor vehicles. Drivers must see people who ride bicycles as PEOPLE! They are not objects, but humans with families, loved ones, and similar lives to motorists when not in the midst of riding their bicycles.
- Understand that Bicyclists are "Vulnerable"
The average car weighs about 4000 pounds or more. A typical bicycle weighs 25 pounds or less. Drivers are protected by what amounts to 4000 pounds of armor around them. Cyclists are without any protection but a helmet or gloves. They are most often going much more slowly than the motorized vehicles with which they interact. It is often said that “no matter what happens, in a collision between a car and a bike, the bike always loses.” Drivers should be MORE aware of those sharing the road who are vulnerable, such as bicyclists, pedestrians, disabled in wheelchairs, children in strollers, and roadway construction workers.
- Don't Be Distracted
I have handled at least 100 cases for injured cyclists where the driver described the accident the same way – “I never saw the bike before the collision”. This is amazing, because the cyclist was in plain sight to be seen. But more and more drivers are texting, talking, surfing the web, and using their phones. They are not paying attention for any traffic, and can easily miss the smaller cyclist.
- Check Before You Open Your Car Door
Cyclists are generally supposed to ride to the ride of moving vehicle traffic. This frequently places them right next to a row of parked cars. Before you open your parked car door, LOOK for cyclists in the vicinity. If you throw open your door without checking, you could easily cause a catastrophic crash for a cyclist.
- Slow Down
Maybe the greatest danger for cyclists is fast moving cars. Studies show that most cyclists are able to survive a collision at less than 25 mph. But the majority of crashes over 35 mph result in fatal or severe injuries. Our urban and residential roads show have slower speed limits. But too often, collisions occur with motor vehicles going dramatically over the posted speed limit.