It’s hard to overestimate the benefits of cycling. It works wonders for your cardiovascular health and muscle strength, while taking less of a toll on your joints than running does. Because it’s low impact, it remains a gentle yet effective form of exercise into the golden years.
It’s also a fantastic, Earth-friendly way of getting from point A to point B. Walking and running work, too, but cycling allows you to go farther faster, and carry things while you’re at it. Biking gets you outside, which is great for mental health, and it cuts down markedly on carbon emissions. According to the University of California, Los Angeles, replacing just one short car ride per day with a bike ride could reduce your total carbon emissions by 67%.
Of course, cycling has its risks, too. Here in Utah, these were highlighted in 2022 as 15 bicyclists were killed—the highest number in more than 30 years.
So how do you reap the benefits of cycling while avoiding the risks? Knowledge is power, and knowing what causes most biking accidents is a critical first step.
Here’s a rundown of common cycling mistakes that can prove dangerous—if not deadly.
Not wearing a helmet.
According to the Federal Highway Administration, 70 to 80% of all fatal bike wrecks involve head injuries. Beyond that, the Cleveland Clinic says that wearing a helmet can reduce the risk of head injury by as much as 85%. Head injuries can take months and even years to heal, and in some cases, they never heal, leaving you with permanent cognitive, emotional, and/or physical damage. Symptoms can range from chronic headaches to difficulty focusing to mood swings to paralysis. The stakes are very high with head injuries. Why risk it when slipping on a helmet is so simple?
Make sure that your helmet fits snuggly on your head and has a label that reads “U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission Certified.” This label indicates that your helmet has been tested and measures up to the federal safety standards.
If your helmet gets damaged in any way, replace it. If you get into a crash and hit your helmet, there’s a chance that it will look fine. However, you should play it safe and replace it anyway. The foam in your helmet is designed to protect you from one round of impact. Even if it looks OK, the foam materials in the helmet will likely have been crushed from the hit and won’t protect you well the next time around.
Maybe you’re not a person who likes to attract a lot of attention, but when it comes to bicycling safety, the last thing you want to do is blend in. Because bicycles are not as common on the road as cars are–nor as big–they don’t always catch a driver’s attention. That’s one of the reasons that cyclists are more than 45 times more likely to be killed or seriously injured on the road than automobile drivers are.
Fluorescent colors are a great choice for daytime cycling because they convert the UV rays that the eye can’t normally see into light that we can see. This helps you stand out from your background so drivers will notice you. Fluorescent clothing also helps drivers to see you from farther away.
Not wearing reflective clothing at night.
Dawn and dusk are popular times to cycle, but the dim light can keep cars from seeing you. And while fluorescent clothing is great in the day, it needs UV rays to make it stand out so it’s not as helpful in the dark. A reflective vest is critical if you’re not cycling in full light. It’s also a good idea to wear reflective strips on your knees and ankles. The pedaling motion will amplify the reflective powers of these strips, and they’ll reflect the car’s headlights back at the driver.
Cycling without lights at night.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the majority of cycling fatalities occur between 6 and 9 pm. This statistic could undoubtedly be improved if all cyclists would ride with proper lighting.
Here in Utah, if you plan to ride your bike more than 30 minutes after sunset or more than 30 minutes before sunrise, you must have adequate bike lighting. This includes a white headlight, a red tail light, and side reflectors. All of these lights must be visible from a distance of 500 feet. This requirement also applies to weather conditions with poor visibility, such as heavy fog.
Ignoring the signs.
When you hop on your bike, consider it a vehicle. This means that the same traffic lights and signs that apply to cars and trucks also apply to you. If you’re approaching a stop sign, come to a complete stop; don’t roll through it. Watch for yield signs and signs that indicate certain areas are off limits to bikes. If you ignore a stop sign and a car hits you in the intersection, you’ve forfeited many of your protections under the law.
Failing to signal.
Good communication saves lives, and just because you don’t have a blinker to communicate your intentions on the road doesn’t mean that you’re off the hook. Let your hands do the talking to signal your intentions:
- Left turn: extend your left arm horizontally
- Right turn: extend your right arm horizontally (or extend your left arm upward)
- Stop: extend your left arm downward
Wrong place, wrong direction.
If there’s no bike lane, you will need to share the road with cars and trucks, but if there’s a bike lane, stay in it! And make sure to ride with traffic. Although this seems like the oldest rule in the book, plenty of bikers still ignore it.
Surprises are great on birthdays but not on the road. Drivers expect you to be going with the flow of traffic. Let’s say a car is trying to turn right. What are they watching for as they try to make their turn? The flow of traffic coming from the left. If you try to zip by them on the right, it could be a disastrous surprise. Play by the rules. Do what motorists are expecting.
Here at the LifeLaw Salt Lake City law firm, we’re big bicycling advocates. In fact, our Director of Claims, David Francis, was once a member of the U.S. Cycling Team alongside teammates like Lance Armstrong, Jonathan Vaughters, and George Hincapie. We swear by the benefits of biking, but we’re also all too familiar with the risks. Avoiding common bicycling errors won’t guarantee your safety, but it can markedly decrease your risk for a bicycling accident.
If you or someone you love has been injured in a biking accident due to the negligence of others, you may be entitled to compensation for your medical bills, lost work wages, and even pain and suffering. Contact our Utah personal injury lawyers for more information.