I’m Afraid to Ride My Bike on the Streets

redroadbikeI’m as health and eco-conscious as the next girl, but the lack of awareness, attention, knowledge of right-of-way laws/general rules of the road and distracted driving I see exhibited by those who occupy the roads with me every day, has made me terrified to take to the streets on two wheels.

California has laws to protect the safety of motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians alike, but I am amazed daily by the number of violations that continue to happen as if no legislation exists because they go unnoticed by violators and law enforcement alike.

Think about it, in California (and many other states) it against the law to:

  • Hold any handheld communication device while driving
  • If you drive a Bus you can’t use a cell phone at all
  • If you are a new driver (anyone under 18) you can’t use a handheld OR handsfree cell phone
  • No texting while driving

Although these things are just as dangerous to other drivers, pedestrians and cyclists who share the road with them, it ISN’T written in the law that you can’t operate a vehicle and:

  • Eat or Drink
  • Talk/Sing/Argue with Passengers
  • Have a Pet Roaming the Car or Sitting in the Driver’s Lap
  • Perform Grooming Tasks (brush hair/teeth, shave, apply makeup, etc.)
  • Read (I’ve seen books, newspapers, maps and more!)
  • Use Navigation System
  • Watch Video Entertainment
  • Fiddle with Radio, CD, MP3, etc.

We all know that even more than this goes on when cars are being driven.  I know I am a perpetrator of some of the above, especially the singing 😉

I have a great bike and I’d love to ride it, in fact, when I’m feeling brave enough to hit the streets of my town, I’ve been known to ride it to the place where I get my messages (two miles from my house) and I’ve even ridden it to the gym about a mile and a half away.  But it seems more and more frequently, the news is reporting another car vs pedestrian or car vs cyclist incident on the streets of the cities near the place I call home.

If you think I am simplifying or exaggerating the risks taken when a pedestrian or cyclist hits the street, consider some of the following statistics cited in a 127 hour video-documented study by Monash University in Austrailia, where 54 car vs cyclist incidents were recorded: 2 collisions, 6 near-collisions and 46 other incidents.  That averaged out to a very scary incident every 2.5 hours, with the blame falling primarily on the drivers of the motor vehicles!

  • Prior to events, 88.9% of cyclists traveled in a safe and legal manner.
  • Vehicle drivers were at fault in 87% of the events, with more than 83% of drivers showing no post-event reaction.
  • The most frequent event was caused by drivers suddenly changing lanes, 40.7%.
  • 70.3% of events occurred at an intersection or intersection-related locations.
  • Cyclists who frequently looked over their shoulders had the highest situational awareness and the greatest ability to avoid collisions or near-collisions with cars.

In this country’s big cities, which have seen a growth in both population and traffic, campaigns have been made to get people to commute by foot or bike, but the same risks, and maybe even more, exist.  More people means more cars and more traffic, but infrastructure (streets, roadways, etc.) have not seen updates in decades and there just isn’t enough room for cars, cyclists, and pedestrians to co-exist.

In September 2013, California governor Jerry Brown signed a law requiring that motorists give cyclists at least 3 feet of clearance when passing.  That’s nice in theory, but the width of any existing bike lanes (which riders have a tendency to hug toward the car side of the lane to avoid bumpy/poorly maintained lanes, debris and slopes toward the curbs) and the need to move more traffic through narrower roads on more lanes than is safe, forces drivers to push into the lane of the driver to their left and could result in a vehicle vs vehicle collision.  Doesn’t seem like the 3 feet rule leaves enough space for ANYONE to be safe!

Consider some other safety issues posed by those who are supposed to share these crowded roadways:

  • Use of cell phones, smart phones, and MP3 players has resulted in a greater possibility than ever of injury to a cyclist or pedestrian who may have one or both of their ears covered by earphones/earbuds.  Their attention is focused down on texting or playing a handheld game while walking, listening to music at a high volume, or having a conversation instead of paying attention to the traffic noises or paying attention to the others who share the sidewalks/roadways;
  • Children are supposed to wear helmets while bicycling, skate boarding, etc., but many parents don’t enforce that rule in their homes;
  • Bicycle riders are instructed to stop and walk their bikes across intersections with cross walks (but most don’t), ride with traffic (not against), and to always ride in a safe and observant manner; and
  • Pedestrians are tasked to walk facing traffic, maintain alertness and obey traffic signals;

With all of these distractions, plus the addition of student drivers, drivers who don’t speak or read the language who may not understand what a sign like “Yield” means in practice, nervous or elderly drivers, and the list goes on, unless it’s a country lane where there are few, if any vehicles, my bike just may continue to gather dust in the garage.  Hmmm

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