As you might expect, when a crash occurs between a vehicle and a bike, it’s the cyclist who is most likely to be injured. In this section, you’ll learn bicycle safety tips and rules of the road, from properly fitting your helmet to driving defensively and predictably. Find out what you can do to prevent bicycle injuries and deaths, and remember: A large percentage of crashes can be avoided if motorists and cyclists follow the rules of the road and watch out for each other.
Americans are increasingly bicycling to commute, for exercise, or just for fun. By law, bicycles on the roadway are vehicles with the same rights and responsibilities as motorized vehicles. NHTSA’s bicycle safety initiatives focus on encouraging safer choices on the part of bicyclists and drivers to help reduce deaths and injuries on our roads.
Every bike ride begins with putting on a helmet. But it’s equally important that you ensure a proper fit so your helmet can best protect you.
Size can vary between manufacturers. Follow the steps to fit a helmet properly. It may take time to ensure a proper helmet fit, but your life is worth it. It’s usually easier to look in the mirror or have someone else adjust the straps. For the most comprehensive list of helmet sizes according to manufacturers, go the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute (BHSI) website.
Decreasing Risk of Crashes
There are two main types of crashes: the most common (falls), and the most serious (the ones with cars). Regardless of the reason for the crash, prevention is the name of the game. There are things you can do to decrease your risk of a crash. First, know some bicycle safety facts:
- Regardless of the season, bicyclist deaths occurred most often between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m.
- Bicyclist deaths occur most often in urban areas (78%) compared to rural areas (22%) in 2019.
- Bicyclist deaths were 6 times higher for males than females in 2019.
- One in four fatal bike crashes in 2019 involved a bicyclist who had been drinking alcohol.
Ride responsibly, and remember: All states require bicyclists on the roadway to follow the same rules and responsibilities as motorists.
Be Prepared Before Heading Out
- Ride a bike that fits you—if it’s too big, it’s harder to control the bike.
- Ride a bike that works—it really doesn’t matter how well you ride if the brakes don’t work.
- Wear equipment to protect you and make you more visible to others, like a bike helmet, bright clothing (during the day), reflective gear, and a white front light and red rear light and reflectors on your bike (at night, or when visibility is poor).
- Ride one per seat, with both hands on the handlebars, unless signaling a turn.
- Carry all items in a backpack or strapped to the back of the bike.
- Tuck and tie your shoe laces and pant legs so they don’t get caught in your bike chain.
- Plan your route—if driving as a vehicle on the road, choose routes with less traffic and slower speeds. Your safest route may be away from traffic altogether, in a bike lane or on a bike path.
Drive Defensively – Focused and Alert
Be focused and alert to the road and all traffic around you; anticipate what others may do, before they do it. This is defensive driving—the quicker you notice a potential conflict, the quicker you can act to avoid a potential crash:
- Drive with the flow, in the same direction as traffic.
- Obey street signs, signals, and road markings, just like a car.
- Assume the other person doesn’t see you; look ahead for hazards or situations to avoid that may cause you to fall, like toys, pebbles, potholes, grates, train tracks.
- No texting, listening to music or using anything that distracts you by taking your eyes and ears or your mind off the road and traffic.
By driving predictably, motorists get a sense of what you intend to do and can react to avoid a crash.
Drive where you are expected to be seen, travel in the same direction as traffic and signal and look over your shoulder before changing lane position or turning.
Avoid or minimize sidewalk riding. Cars don’t expect to see moving traffic on a sidewalk and don’t look for you when backing out of a driveway or turning. Sidewalks sometimes end unexpectedly, forcing the bicyclist into a road when a car isn’t expecting to look for a bicyclist. If you must ride on the sidewalk remember to:
- Check your law to make sure sidewalk riding is legal;
- Watch for pedestrians;
- Pass pedestrians with care by first announcing “on your left” or “passing on your left” or use a bell;
- Ride in the same direction as traffic. This way, if the sidewalk ends, you are already riding with the flow of traffic. If crossing a street, motorists will look left, right, left for traffic. When you are to the driver’s left, the driver is more likely to see you;
- Slow and look for traffic (left-right-left and behind) when crossing a street from a sidewalk; be prepared to stop and follow the pedestrian signals; and
- Slow down and look for cars backing out of driveways or turning.
Improve Your Riding Skills
No one learns to drive a vehicle safely without practice and experience; safely riding your bike in traffic requires the same preparation. Start by riding your bike in a safe environment away from traffic (a park, path, or empty parking lot).
Take an on-bike class through your school, recreation department, local bike shop or bike advocacy group. Confidence in traffic comes with learning how to navigate and communicate with other drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians. Review and practice as a safe pedestrian or bicyclist is great preparation for safe riding.
Drivers: Share the Road
People on bicycles have the same rights and responsibilities as people behind the wheel of a vehicle.
- Yield to bicyclists as you would motorists and do not underestimate their speed. This will help avoid turning in front of a bicyclist traveling on the road or sidewalk, often at an intersection or driveway.
- In parking lots, at stop signs, when packing up, or when parking, search your surroundings for other vehicles, including bicycles.
- Drivers turning right on red should look to the right and behind to avoid hitting a bicyclist approaching from the right rear. Stop completely and look left-right-left and behind before turning right on red.
- Obey the speed limit, reduce speed for road conditions and drive defensively to avoid a crash with a cyclist.
- Give cyclists room. Do not pass too closely. Pass bicyclists as you would any other vehicle—when it’s safe to move over into an adjacent lane.