Spring is here! As the thermometer finally begins to creep upward, we here in Worcester and other parts of Central Massachusetts are hauling out our bikes, ready to enjoy the feel of the sun’s rays on our faces after a long winter.
Biking is a great way to get the heart pumping and an environmentally-friendly way to get around town, but there are risks, too.
Early last winter, all of Massachusetts was stunned and saddened by two tragic bicycle crashes in Boston that lead to the deaths of two Boston University students, each accident occurring with one month of each other. And last July here in Worcester, a 48-year old musician and dedicated cyclist died from head injuries after colliding with a moving vehicle on Park Avenue. Such accidents are unhappy reminders to observe safe biking practices no matter how comfortable you feel on your bike, and to remain especially alert when riding among car traffic.
In Worcester, our lack of bike lanes and busy traffic pose a particular challenge for cyclists. Many motorists aren’t aware that bikers not only have a right to be on the road, but often have no other legal option. Unfortunately, this means that some drivers behave disrespectfully toward rule-abiding cyclists (honking, yelling “get off the road!,” failing to yield, etc.), sometimes increasing the risk of causing an accident.
While there’s little you can do about rude or dangerous drivers, you can help protect yourself by observing these five bike safety tips.
- Observe traffic laws. It’s tempting to whiz through a stop sign or red light when the coast seems absolutely clear, but resist. First of all, it’s the law. Second, you never know when a pedestrian or vehicle will dart out unexpectedly.
- Watch out for open car doors. Getting “doored” is a common cause of injuries to cyclists. By law, drivers are responsible for ensuring that no one is in their path before opening their vehicle door, but cyclists should ride at least three feet from parked car doors whenever possible. Scan parked cars for brake lights, and keep your hands on the bike’s brake levers rather than the bars for quick stopping.
- Make yourself highly visible. All Massachusetts cyclists must use a headlight and taillight (white in front, red in back) on their bikes when riding after dark. It’s also a smart idea to wear brightly-colored reflective clothing, particularly jackets and ankle reflectors. Do as much as you can to make yourself visible to motor traffic.
- Ride with the flow of traffic. When you ride against the flow of traffic, your collision risk increases because drivers will be looking for traffic coming from the lawful direction, not the wrong way. Also, you won’t be able to see traffic lights, thus increasing the risk of an accident.
- Wear a helmet. Only children age 16 and under are required by Massachusetts law to wear a helmet when riding a bike. But wearing a helmet might save your life at any age. A 2012 study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal showed that cyclists that died of head injuries were three times less likely to be wearing a helmet compared with those who died of other injuries.
Hopefully, one day Worcester will follow Boston’s lead and start implementing life-saving, bike safety-initiatives. Such initiatives might include posting advisory/cautionary signs warning drivers of high bicycle traffic or reminding them to share the road; installing well-marked bike lanes, and installing highway reflectors on the pavement outside of the bike lanes.
In any event, stay extra-cautious and alert!