Bike Commuting - Safety Tips
Cycling season is finally here and the bike lanes are chock full of riders. Life is slowly but surely returning to normal and more of us are being asked to return to the office. Our team at The Biking Lawyer are huge fans of bicycle commuting, however, we more than anyone are cognizant of the risks of riding. We represent injured cyclists and as a by-product of our work have insight into the most common issues facing bike commuters. While cycling is generally a safe way to get around, we have put together the top ten tips and tricks that you can employ in order to vastly reduce the risk of collision or injury while riding your bike in the busiest hours of the day.
#1 Take steps to be highly visible
Our team spends a good deal of time doing “Know your Rights” workshops for cyclists and at times I think that I may sound like a broken record as I repeatedly advise cyclists to use bike lights and wear some form of reflective gear. But the truth of the matter is that the most effective thing that a cyclist can do to avoid injury is to be highly visible. Many motorists engage in their daily commute in a state of autopilot. They pay less attention than they ought to and their focus is limited to risks that they can easily see and identify. The best thing that you can do as a cyclist when operating on busy roads is to make yourself conspicuous so that you are not struck as a result of the inattention of a motorist.
#2 Plan your route in advance
Cities across Canada have embraced cycling as an essential component of urban planning. They have built networks of cycling routes that while imperfect are better than the alternative. We recognize that there are major gaps and gaffs in the cycling routes created by most cities, but they are definitely safer than riding routes that are not designated as cycling routes. If you are going to get in the habit of riding on a daily basis take the time to plan a route that avoids the worst and most dangerous locations in your city.
#3 Be vigilant
There is no nice way to put it, Ontario roads are pockmarked with endless hazards. Whether you are riding in a bike lane or on a major throughway there are cracks, streetcar tracks and potholes everywhere. Though it is tempting to let your guard down, even doing so for a moment can put you in harms way. Keep two hands on the bars and your mind on the ride. Doing so may help you avoid the worst of the obstacles.
#4 Equip yourself with a bell and ring it frequently
When we examine drivers who struck cyclists they always say the same thing “the biker came out of nowhere”. Though this is a ridiculous excuse it is clear that we have to take every possible step to make our presence known. One way to do this is by ringing your bell loud and often.
#5 Avoid riding on sidewalks
It is best to avoid riding on sidewalks. There are cases where bike lanes share sidewalks, but overall riding on a sidewalk is illegal in most municipalities and is a risk for the cyclist and for pedestrians. One of our most frequent situations that we encounter is a cyclist riding off the sidewalk into an intersection and getting struck by a right turner. Motorists making a right turn tend to be looking at pedestrians and they will excuse hitting a cyclist arguing that they could not have anticipated a bicycle.
When faced with cases where a cyclist road directly from a crosswalk into an intersection the courts have penalized the cyclist by reducing the damages award.
#6 The ubiquitous “right hook”
Our most frequent consultation involves right turning motorists. Even when our clients are firmly ensconced in a well designated bicycle lane they are susceptible to the negligent right turning motorist. Automobile drivers tend to ignore cyclists when they pass us on our left. They underestimate the speed of the bike and think that the are perfectly entitled to make a right turn directly into our path of travel. As a cyclist in a bike lane you are completely in the right when you are struck by a right turning vehicle, however, it is better to be healthy than in the right. If you are in a lane with vehicles to your left you must assume that they could turn right. As you approach the intersection get in a defensive posture, keep your hands on the breaks and be ready. You cannot assume that the motorist will be diligent and check their mirror. Ride defensively.
#7 Try your best to follow the rules of the road
Ontario's Highway Traffic Act places a pretty strict onus upon cyclists to follow the rules of the road. As dedicated cyclists ourselves we are well aware that the rules of the road were made for cars and that bikes were an afterthought. Nonetheless, it is important to try your best to follow the rules of the road as closely as you can. This means that when you are commuting on your bike you are going to stop at red lights, respect crosswalks, use your hand signals whenever possible. The list goes on and on. I am constantly told by motorists that "cyclist's do not follow the rules". It is important to our community that we dispel this terrible myth.
#8 Do not ride with earphones
I will admit, riding with music is incredibly nice, however, it increases risk and therefore should be avoided. When you are riding in traffic you need access to all of your senses. One small mistake or misstep can be so costly that we recommend that you leave any audio devices at home.
#9 Wait a beat before you cross an intersection
Some of our most serious claims have been caused by motorists running late amber or red lights. Though these accidents are infrequent they are often the most serious. It may be tempting to jump the gun and get a head start when you are at an intersection, however, unlike a motorist you are not encapsulated in a metallic shell. Unless you are absolutely sure that traffic has come to a complete stop do not risk entering an intersection.
#10 If you don’t feel safe, get off the road and walk
You do not need to be a hero or a risk taker to be a daily commuter. If traffic is particularly bad or if you feel that drivers aren’t respecting your space trust your intuition. Never push yourself to ride when you aren’t feeling comfortable. Riding is supposed to be enjoyable and healthy not a stressful anxiety provoking process.
As always, we are open to hearing your thoughts and recommendations. As I ride the roads of Ontario I am always blown away by the number of cyclists and the diversity of our community. Everyone has their own techniques and like you we are always eager to learn more from the people that are out there doing it every day.
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