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12 Things to Know about Safety and Bicycle Crashes

  1. Bicycles are legal. Illinois law states bicycles are legal vehicles on the road. Despite the law, some motorists insist that bicycles belong only on sidewalks or should be restricted to paths. The problem: sidewalks and paths don’t go everywhere bicyclists need to go. Bicyclists are more visible and safer, particularly at intersections, if they ride in the road.
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  2. Helmets. Helmets should be worn by children and adults to prevent or reduce injuries and save lives. Wearing a helmet, though, will not prevent a crash. In the Netherlands, few cyclists wear helmets, yet the fatality rate is 1/5 of the U.S. because Dutch motorists respect the rights of bicyclists.
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  3. Accident vs. crash. The word “accident” means the mishap was unavoidable, and no one was to blame. Traffic safety experts say most crashes involving motorists and bicyclists are avoidable and can be prevented through better training and being alert. “Crash, collision or mishap” are more accurate than “accident.”
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  4. Typical crashes involving child bicyclists: Most are related to inexperience, such as riding out of a residential driveway, alley or side street without first looking, failing to stop at stop signs or traffic lights, and making left turns without first looking over the shoulder for approaching traffic and signaling. With training, these crashes can be prevented.
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  5. Typical crashes involving adult bicyclists: Most are caused by motorists, such as failing to yield when making turns in front of bicyclists and failing to yield at stop signs and traffic lights. The exception: bicyclists riding against the flow of traffic. By sharing the road, observing traffic laws and being patient and courteous, these crashes can be prevented by motorists and bicyclists.
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  6. Speed matters. Excessive speed by motorists is a leading cause of crashes and a major factor in the seriousness of a motorist-bicyclist crash. The higher the speed of the motor vehicle the greater likelihood a bicyclist will be killed.
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  7. Distractions. Distractions and drowsiness make drivers as crash-prone as driving drunk. While drunk driving gets reported, other risky actions — using a cell phone, eating, doing make-up, using a hand-held computer or a music player — are rarely reported. A distraction of only three seconds can cause a collision.
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  8. “I didn’t see him.” It’s a common response by motorists after a crash and often means a driver was not paying attention to the road and not alert to the presence of bicyclists. Claiming not to see a bicyclist, pedestrian or another motorist is not a valid excuse to avoid being charged with a traffic offense.
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  9. Getting hit from behind. Many bicyclists do not ride on roads because of their fear of getting hit from behind by a car. This is a relatively uncommon crash, but it can occur especially on rural roads, in poor visibility, and at night. For a bicyclist to be safe, a motorist should allow at least three feet of space when passing, more if the car is traveling faster.
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  10. The bicyclists’ safety mantra: Bicyclists fare best when they act and are treated like other vehicles on the road. Bicyclists, just like motorists, have fewer crashes when they obey traffic laws and follow driving conventions — observing the right-of-way, being in the proper lane and intersection positions, signaling and being predictable.
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  11. Bicyclists’ typical traffic violations: Bicyclists riding against the flow of traffic, failing to stop at stop signs and traffic lights and impeding normal traffic by riding side-by-side or more than two abreast. Riding more than two abreast is prohibited by law, except on paths or roadways designated for exclusive bike use.
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  1. No justification for intimidation. Although bicyclists’ traffic violations disturb and even anger some motorists, they are usually not the major causes of crashes with motor vehicles. Nonetheless, motorists have no right to intimidate bicyclists for riding in the road, where they have a legal right to be. Everyone gets where they’re going safely when everyone shares the road and shows patience and courtesy.
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