I admit that I don’t ride a bike very often. And, even when I do, it is around the neighborhood, not on major streets. I sure don’t commute via bike. So, I asked my friend and Oakland, CA trial lawyer Fred Goss for some safety information. Fred is an avid biker, as you will read. Here is what he told me:
It is my opinion that the majority of bike riders simply do not know how to ride safely. By way of back ground, I have been riding seriously for 25+ years. I commute daily, rain or shine, including riding to court. I have had several dozen injured cyclists as clients and have learned a lot from their accidents and my own cycling experience. As part of my initial client interview, I give them my safety lecture, which is sort of what follows below.
The biggest fear cyclists have is getting whacked from behind. To avoid this, they place themselves in more danger: riding close to parked cars, on sidewalks or against traffic. The biggest danger cyclists actually face is from what I call “cross traffic,” which is anything which cuts across your path of travel: car doors opening; pedestrians or children stepping in front of you; cars turning; cars pulling out of side streets, drive ways or parking lots.
While some cyclists do get hit from behind, I have found this is the result of drivers thinking they have enough room to get by the cyclist who is doing everything to stay away from rear-coming traffic. The vast majority of injured cyclists are injured by “cross traffic.”
So how do you ride safely? In two words: RIDE WIDE. As counter-intuitive as it seems at first, this means riding your bike just like you drive your car. Take your place in the road and keep it unless you need to take evasive action.
The first part of RW is to ride at least 5-6 feet from parked cars and taking your rightful place on the road EVEN IF this puts you in front of rear-coming traffic. If cars can see you AND if they know where you are going, it is very unlikely they will hit you. By riding 5-6 feet out from parked cars, you avoid doors opening into you. Drivers who are parked along the road and are attempting to enter traffic will be looking for rear-coming vehicles, not bikes. But if you are safely away from parked cars, these drivers will be much more likely to see you. This position will also allow you to see brake lights, back up lights, front wheels turning and other indicators of a parked car moving.
This position will also allow you focus on the traffic in front of you – the “cross traffic” – where the real danger is. If a door suddenly flies open in front of you, especially if you are focusing on other potential dangers, you will be out of the way. You will not be forced to make a sudden turn into rear-coming traffic to avoid the door; you will not be knocked out into traffic if the door hits you.
One of the most important reasons for having this buffer zone is that it gives you another place to move to if you have to. If you are riding up against parked cars, you literally have no place to go.
The second part of RIDE WIDE is to ride in a straight line, even if there are many empty parking places along the street. If you pull over into these empty places, you give rear-coming traffic permission to go on by you. But at some point if there are cars parked ahead of you, you have to look behind you – and thereby taking your eyes off “cross traffic” – to make sure it is safe to pull back into the flow of traffic. If that parked car is just about to pull into traffic itself, or if its driver is about to open the door, you will very likely not be able to react because you are not looking ahead!
Riding in a straight line allows the drivers behind you to see you, to see where you are going, and to react accordingly. Even when you come to a stop line, keep your place in the road. If you pull over to the curb like so many cyclists do, you allow rear-coming traffic to take you place. Then as you proceed ahead, you are again faced with the problem of pulling back into rear-coming traffic and ignoring “cross traffic” just ahead of you.
I have found that RW works in most but not all situations. If I diverge from RW, I make a conscious choice to do so. If I am riding on a city street where the traffic is cruising at 50 mph, I might take an alternative route, even if it means riding on a sidewalk. But now that I have deviated from RW, I am aware of the dangers of riding on a side walk.
It takes practice to get the confidence to RW, but you will find riding a bike is really much more enjoyable when you control the space around you. Drivers will actually work with you when they can see you and know where you are headed. Even if a driver yells at you or blows his or her horn, you have time to make a choice about what to do because the driver has seen you! You can signal the driver to pull around you or you may want to pull into your buffer zone. I have found the vast majority of drivers to be courteous to me. Perhaps one out of a thousand drivers who pass me may blow his or her horn or yell at me. But they have seen me!! Which means the chances are very good they won’t hit me. And bottom line, this is what we want.
Thanks for the great information, Fred!