Recently there’s been a fair bit of attention to the frequency of traffic accidents involving bicyclists in Chico and the surrounding areas. More specifically the discussions have involved a lot of finger pointing at the cyclists regarding who is generally to blame. Honestly, a large number of the people I see riding their bikes around Chico are fairly blameworthy and probably don’t know as many bicycle traffic laws as they break on any given day. The bottom line is that bicycles are vehicles and they are expected to obey all of the same traffic laws as cars and motorcycles. But they are at a huge disadvantage in most traffic situations where they’re harder to see, slower, and much more vulnerable on the road to getting hit. Stopping at stop signs, red lights, and hand signaling when turning are all part of the law. Bike paths are a much safer place for bikes to ride without the danger of traffic, but we often must share the roads with traveling cars and trucks.
We all feel safe in our cars and as we rightly should. Millions upon millions of dollars are spent making automobiles safe and protecting passengers and drivers from all levels of collisions and accidents. It doesn’t take an engineer to see that a person on a bicycle is about as unsafe against a car as is physically possible. It is for this reason that bicyclists are taught to ride defensively and to constantly take the initiative of keeping themselves as visible as possible and out of harm’s way. Laws are there to help insure this end, but really they don’t do much in regards to safety. Helmets are, without a doubt, the most important piece of safety equipment a bike rider can own. They are only required by law if you are under 18, but are merely encouraged to be used for anyone else.
Nighttime riding creates exponentially larger issues with visibility and it is for that reason that the law requires lights and reflectors. According to the California DMV website, a front light must be white and visible from 300 feet. A rear-mounted reflector or light must be red and visible from 500 feet. Also required, and I didn’t know this one, are reflective material on either your ankles or pedals which must be white or yellow and visible from 200 feet. None of these things are required during daylight hours, but at night you must have all three.
As a kid, I was told that safety dictates bicyclists riding on the left side of the road, to see oncoming traffic and not get hit from behind. This is, in fact, illegal and fairly dangerous especially in intersections. Collisions from behind are rare and riding on the wrong side of the road makes motorists even less likely to be looking out for you. Obeying traffic laws will increase your chances of avoiding accidents and will also protect your liability if you do happen to get hit by a motorist, but the real key is to think when you ride. Always look ahead and anticipate the actions of others. That car door could open as you ride by, that delivery truck might pull out before it sees you, that pedestrian who might think that you are stopping even though there’s no crosswalk…ride smart and you will ride home safely.