Preventive Medicine is a board-certified specialty of medical practice that focuses on the health of individuals, communities and defined populations. Its goal is to protect, promote and maintain health and well-being and to prevent disease, disability, injury and death. With that in mind, let’s discuss bicycle safety.
The popularity of bicycle riding is at an all-time high. So are bicycling accidents. The Center for Disease Control reports that in the U.S. there were over a half million bicycling accidents last year, including several hundred fatalities.
Summer is the most common time for accidents involving bicycles. But, fall is just around the corner, and with it are the beautiful bicycle tours that take in the spectacular fall colors. Eighty percent of all bicycle accidents occur during the day. No matter what time of the day or year, it is important to keep bicycling safety at the forefront.
In fact, some of the most important things that can be done for safety can be done very easily and inexpensively. First, let’s debunk these four common misconceptions about bicycle safety:
1) Lights are only needed at night.
2) It is easy to see a bicyclist on a sunny day.
3) Fluorescent clothing can be seen well at night.
4) Car drivers always notice bicycle riders.
Here are 18 tips to maximize safety while riding a bike:
1) Install daytime running lights on your bike. These are available at all bike shops.
2) Wear fluorescent and contrasting colors when you ride. The brighter, the better! This is very important in the city where distractions for automobile drivers abound.
3) Wear reflective clothing and fluorescent clothing on all moving body parts. This is especially important for knees, feet and ankles. By making these areas visually more attractive, they become more than 80 percent more noticed. In a recent report by Clemson University, it was discovered that bicyclists overestimated their visibility by car drivers an alarming 700 percent.
4) Mount reflectors on both the front and rear of the bike.
5) Also, use rear running lights.
6) Make sure all running lights are in the “flashing” position.
7) Always wear a helmet. Get it professionally fitted at your bike shop.
8) Make sure your bicycle is properly maintained: the tires inflated properly; the seat at the proper height; the chain tight, running smoothly and rust-free; the brakes in good working order.
9) Be aware of weather conditions and make sure you allow more stopping time during wet weather.
10) Ride in the same direction as car traffic; “go with the flow,” not against it.
11) Keep at least one hand on the handlebars at all times. If you are transporting items, make sure to use a bike carrier or backpack.
12) Use hand signals at all times so others around you are aware of your intentions.
13) Keep at least one ear free so you can hear what is going on around you. Never wear headphones that cover both ears.
14) Be especially careful at intersections. The majority of bicycle accidents occur at intersections, so entering into an intersection is the time to be most careful.
15) Always obey all traffic signals, just like a car. Riding a bicycle does not give you special permissions or powers over cars or pedestrians!
16) When passing a pedestrian or another bicyclist, alert them by yelling loudly, “Passing on your right” (or left as the case may be).
17) Constantly monitor the road for hazards such as potholes, rocks, garbage, animals or broken glass that could cause you to lose control.
18) When riding alongside parked cars be especially alert. Stay approximately four feet wide of the cars to avoid a door that could suddenly fly open and hit you as someone exits the car. This is a surprisingly common and avoidable accident!
When it comes to car and bicycle collisions, day or night, no matter what time of the year, the most common cause of accidents is the car driver’s inability to see the bicyclist. Helmets are great, but they are helpful only when an accident occurs. The goal is to prevent accidents from occurring in the first place.
If you do only three things to maximize bicycle safety, the most important three things are:
1) Use a day running light.
2) Wear bright fluorescent clothing on the moving parts of your body such as knees, ankles and feet.
3) Use flashing lights front, back, and on your body for night riding.
Visit your local bike shop for yearly bike tune-ups and additional safety tips and ideas. Those dedicated bike folks are extremely knowledgeable and helpful.
Bicycling is healthy, entertaining, educational, adventurous and fun. Make sure your bicycling is safe, too. When it comes to bicycling safety, VISIBILITY IS KING!
Charles E. Crutchfield III, MD is a board certified dermatologist and Clinical Professor of Dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School. He also has a private practice in Eagan, MN. He received his M.D. and Master’s Degree in Molecular Biology and Genomics from the Mayo Clinic. He has been selected as one of the top 10 dermatologists in the United States by Black Enterprise magazine. Dr. Crutchfield was recognized by Minnesota Medicine as one of the 100 Most Influential Healthcare Leaders in Minnesota. He is the team dermatologist for the Minnesota Twins, Vikings, Timberwolves, Wild and Lynx. Dr. Crutchfield is an active member of both the American and National Medical Associations.