Automobiles and bicycles have a long and somewhat tumultuous history together. The fact is that they seem to have gotten off on the wrong foot, and have been dancing out of step ever since. History notes that the very first recorded motor vehicle crash took place in 1896 in New York City, and involved a collision between an automobile and – you guessed it – a cyclist. Unfortunately, that initial collision was just the beginning. Since the United States began tracking traffic-related fatalities on the nation’s roads and highways in 1932, tens of thousands of cyclists have been killed in such crashes.
State Efforts to Turn the Tide
There has been an ongoing effort at the state level to create safer conditions for cyclists, and some progress has been made. Despite that effort, however, there continues to be tens of thousands of collision injuries each year, and far more deaths than any society can accept. To complicate matters even further, millions of new bicycles are purchased by Americans each year. Given the rapid growth in the number of cyclists and the vulnerability that all bicycle riders experience on the nation’s roads and highways – as well as the fact that 92% of all bicycle deaths are the result of collisions with cars and trucks, it is imperative that motorists and bicyclists learn to co-exist.
There are a number of initiatives underway to help reach that objective, including state laws that mandate bicycle lanes – as well as the ongoing effort across the country to pass reasonable three-feet passing laws. According to the National Conference of State Legislators, that effort is enjoying considerable success. More than half of the states in the country now require that drivers maintain a minimum of three feet distance between their vehicles and bicycles when passing them on the road. Several of those states require four feet or more.
The Safety Movement in Texas
In Texas, a proposed Safe Passing Ordinance would mandate that drivers maintain that 3 feet distance while passing cyclists (6 feet for commercial vehicles) and make violation of the law a misdemeanor that carries a $500 fine if property damage results from the infraction. That measure could be an important step in helping to create a safer cycling environment in a state that sees 50 bicyclists, 500 motorcyclists, and some 400 pedestrians die each year. And while Texas is already making tremendous strides by adding new bike lanes that provide a safe area for cyclists to ride, most experts agree that the passage of this law would substantially increase public safety.
It is important that drivers and bike riders alike be aware of what they need to do to ensure that their interactions on the road are as safe as possible. Fortunately, there are some simple things that can be done to facilitate a safer environment for everyone:
- Drivers should be aware of bicyclist vulnerability at all times. A car can weigh as much as 200 times the weight of a bicycle, and that’s the type of differential that essentially guarantees that bicyclists will always lose out in any collision between the two. Oh, and try not to hit them with your car door when you’re exiting your vehicle!
- Drivers should also remember that cyclists have the same right to the road that automobiles enjoy. The law considers bicycles to be vehicles, subject to the same driving rules that motor vehicle drivers must obey.
- Bicyclists must also recognize that their right to be on the road also comes with the responsibility to obey laws and regulations. Many drivers get frustrated when bicycles fail to stop at stop signs or traffic lights, or otherwise ignore the rules. Rights and responsibilities go hand in hand.
- Special attention should be given at intersections. Both right and left-hand turns can be dangerous if cyclists are in the area since drivers can sometimes have difficulty assessing a bicycle’s speed or the rider’s intent.
- Try not to use your horn unless absolutely necessary. For many cyclists, that sudden honking sound can be alarming and lead to an accident.
- Always give riders at least three feet of clearance when passing, and don’t just speed up to get around them. Even if your state has no law covering passing distance, it is always better to err on the side of safety.
- Finally, remember that cyclists are human beings too. Whenever you start to become irritated because a bicycle is going too slow or otherwise impeding your progress, try to remember that the rider has friends and family who would like to see him come home in one piece.
The fact is that bicycle safety is a societal issue that requires good decisions from both cyclists and motorists. Tolerance, patience, and awareness of your environment can help to ensure that you do your part to protect not only vulnerable bicycle riders but yourself as well.