Riding is risky—Cyclists account for only 1% of traffic across the United States, and yet 2.9% of Massachusetts traffic fatalities involve a cyclist. To further complicate matters, those statistics only reflect the bike accidents that are reported—emergency room studies estimate that as few as 10% of bicycle crashes causing injury are ever recorded because unlike traditional car accidents, bike crashes rarely involve insurance agencies or police.
For most, the health benefits of cycling outweigh the risks. Now that spring is here, many Worcester residents are eager to dust off their bikes and get some exercise and fresh air by riding to school or work. Since May is Bike Safety Month, we’ve compiled some guidelines on how cyclists and motorists can share the road safely to avoid accidents and injury and improve bike safety as a whole.
Massachusetts Laws for Cyclists: a Refresher
Bike laws are written with cyclists’ safety in mind, so let’s take a moment to recall a few pertinent bike laws in Massachusetts.
1. Bicyclists must obey traffic laws.
Because cyclists are considered vehicle operators, they are expected to obey traffic laws. This includes stopping at traffic lights, giving pedestrians in crosswalks the right of way, and signaling before turns.
2. Kids must wear helmets.
Children age 16 and under are required to wear a helmet, and babies younger than age 1 may not be transported on a bike at all.
3. It’s legal to ride on the sidewalk, but only in certain situations.
Cyclists may sometimes ride on the sidewalk, “outside of business districts when necessary in the interest of safety.” However, per Massachusetts law, pedestrians on sidewalks always have the right-of-way. Take note of this statistic: according to one study in New York City, over 500 pedestrians a year are injured badly enough in a bike collision to end up in the hospital.
How Bike Accidents Happen
In some cases, the bicyclist may be at fault for the accident. Though it’s illegal, it’s still common for cyclists to run stop signs, potentially injuring a pedestrian in the process. Ignoring the rules of the road comes at a cost.
One study in Washington State found that 11% of fatal bicycle accidents involved cyclists traveling against the flow of traffic.
Meanwhile, drivers may cause accidents due to their ignorance of cyclists’ rights on the road. Did you know, for example, that cyclists are permitted to pass on the right? It’s very easy to imagine a car in the process of making a right turn striking a passing cyclist. In fact, about a third of cyclist fatalities occur at or near intersections. Drivers may be entirely oblivious to the cyclist’s presence, due to poor cyclist visibility or distracted driving.
Not all bicycle accidents involve cars, pedestrians, or even other people. Cyclists can sustain injuries from a number of other kinds of accidents, including:
- Dog attacks, or accidents involving a dog or leash getting tangled up on the bike
- Cyclists colliding with each other
- “Dooring” (when a motor vehicle operator opens his door into an oncoming cyclist)
- Alcohol-related bike accidents
How We Can Improve Bike Safety
- Bicyclists should always wear a properly fitted helmet. According to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, cycling accidents contribute to more head injuries than any other sport.
- Bicyclists should increase their visibility using lighting and reflective clothing
- Municipalities must invest in bike lane signage and improvements
- Increase fines for parking in bike lanes
- Educate drivers on cyclist rights and Massachusetts laws on bicycles
What to do if You’re Injured in a Bike Accident
Under Massachusetts law, personal injury protection (PIP) covers the first $2,000 of a cyclist’s medical bills, even if the cyclist was at fault for the accident. It also pays up to $8,000 to cover lost wages due to injuries sustained in a bike accident.