More than a quarter million cars are registered in the U.S., and every year, between 16 million and 18 million bicycles are purchased by American consumers. That means two things: Americans like to go places, and the roads are becoming more and more crowded as drivers and bicyclists vie for space on the nation’s highways and byways.
Learning to “get along” with bicyclists is the best way to avoid accidents. Accidents between bicycles and cars are much more likely to result in serious injury than accidents between two cars, and if you have an accident with a bicyclist and you’re at fault, you can face stiff penalties, including fines and jail time, the loss of your license and the loss of your auto insurance.
You may have learned a little bit about sharing the road with bike riders when you studied for your driving test. Depending on how long it’s been since you took that driving test, you may need a little refresher on tips you can use to avoid accidents and stay safe:
- Take care turning right. When you make a right turn, you look for pedestrians crossing the road, right? Well, you should also look for bike riders approaching on your right. They have the right-of-way, and that means if you turn and wind up cutting them off, you’re at fault.
- Understand the signals bike riders use. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) offers a “cheat sheet” to help you learn the signals for right and left turns and stopping.
- Treat a bicyclist as any other slow-moving vehicle. Under the law, bike riders have the same rights as motorists when on the roads. Don’t drive aggressively, cut them off or crowd them off the road.
- Use your horn sparingly. Although most bicyclists are aware you’re approaching, not all of them are as “tuned in” to the sounds of an approaching car. Without windows and doors around them, they’re subjected to a steady stream of noise. If you want to let a bicyclist know you’re about to pass them, use your horn gently – don’t lean on it.
- Stay out of bike lanes. Don’t drive in them and don’t park in them. Parking in a bike lane means bicyclists have to swerve into traffic lanes where their presence will be unexpected. That increases the accident risk for bicyclists as well as motorists.
Above all, be patient and be aware. Bicyclists have a right to the road just as car drivers do. Keep an eye out for behavior that could cause accidents and you’ll help ensure everyone on the roadways stays safe.