Bicycle accident prevention tips

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Here in the Pacific Northwest, we love to ride our bicycles. Although it can be a lot of fun, and a great way to spend a nice summer’s day, riding a bicycle in urban environments comes with some added risk. In my career as a Seattle personal injury lawyer, I have dealt with clients in bicycle accidents, and understand the dangers all too well. Although nationwide bicycle accident deaths in 2008 were just 2% of all traffic-related fatalities, that was still 716 people. Bicycle injuries are far more common as well, with 52,000 people getting hurt on a bike in 2008.

Riding a bicycle down the streets in crowded neighborhoods can be very tricky. In Washington – especially King and Pierce Counties – there are very large cities with many commuters. Having dealt with cases of people injured from bicycle accidents, there are five major pieces of advice that I would like to share with you to help prevent this from happening to you.

  1. Wear a helmet: While it may not be a state law just yet, many cities and counties require bicyclists to wear helmets. King County, Tacoma, Renton, Puyallup, Spokane, Lakewood and many others have this law in effect. According to recent studies, Helmet use has been estimated to reduce head injury risk by 85 percent. If you are hit by a car while on a bike and are not wearing a helmet when you are legally supposed to, then it will be much more difficult to get awarded damages to pay for your medical bills.
  2. Stay off the sidewalk: Drivers may get impatient if there is no bike lane and you are out in the street, but that is both legal and much safer than riding on the sidewalk. The problem with being on the sidewalk is that drivers have a much more difficult time seeing you when making a turn. There are many potential accidents that can occur this way. Imagine this: you are riding on the sidewalk and see a green light and a white crosswalk sign telling you that you have the right of way. Coming from the other side of the street, though, is a car hoping to turn left. A driver only expects people walking on the sidewalk, so they may decide to go without seeing a pedestrian. Bicycles are much faster than pedestrians, though, and you could very well meet the car as it’s making the turn, either crashing into its side, or being hit by the front of the vehicle. Stay on the street, because that is where oncoming traffic can see you.
  3. Ride with traffic: It may seem more comfortable to ride against traffic, because you can see cars coming at you before the pass you, but it is one of the most dangerous things you can do. First of all, there is a substantially lower possibility for reaction time between you and the car coming at you. If you are riding with traffic, a car sees you in front of it as you are also moving in the same direction. This allows the driver time to think and react if it is close to hitting you. Also, a very common bicycle accident can occur when a bicyclist is riding on the left hand side of the road, and a car is turning right onto the same street. That car will be looking left at oncoming traffic to see if they have space to turn onto the street, and has no reason to check to the right, because nothing should be coming from that side. If you are riding against traffic, you would be coming in from that car’s right, and that is an accident waiting to happen.
  4. Get both a headlight and a flashing backlight: If you are riding at night, this rule is absolutely essential. If you don’t have both of these lights, you are putting yourself in a very dangerous situation. First off, the law requires it. Secondly, even if you think you have the eyes of an owl, drivers on the road likely don’t. Visibility is very low at night, especially in Washington during the fall and winter, so it is important that you make yourself as noticeable as possible with these lights.
  5. Ride slow and avoid blind spots: While bicycles are clearly a part of our transportation culture, they are both difficult to see, and rarely even looked for. Riding slow and avoiding blind spots will allow you to react to drivers, and put more control in your hands.

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