Cycle safety

With warmer weather and summer break approaching, drivers are urged to be more aware of bicyclists on the roads.

With children out of school and better weather on the horizon, motorists can expect more bicycles on eastern Idaho roadways.

Thursday’s vehicle vs. bike accident that landed a cyclist in the hospital underscores the need for motorists and bicyclists to be safety conscious.

A person on a bike is akin to a bug on a windshield of a zooming automobile — the results can be catastrophic.

In Idaho in 2017, 445 bicyclists were hit by motorists, and another 485 people were hit by drivers when walking on state roads, according to statistics from Idaho Walk Bike Alliance.

Local and state cycling experts offer some bits of advice for people taking up two-wheeled human-powered transportation and for motorists who pass them by.

“Lighting is important,” says longtime cyclist Richard Napier, owner of the outdoor sports shop Idaho Mountain Trading. “Not only nighttime but also daytime. Lighting has become really important in the reduction of bicycle-vehicle accidents. Both front and rear.”

Napier recommends a modern, bright blinking taillight and a bright headlight allowing motorists to see cyclists farther away, giving them time to react safely.

“The automobile driver is driving along and rather than coming up and seeing you a couple of hundred yards ahead, he can see you three-quarters to a mile ahead,” he said. “Then if they’re doing some type of distracted driving — changing their CD or radio or all those other things people do in their cars — they’ve spotted you way ahead of time.”

Napier also emphasized wearing a helmet.

“I went over my handlebars on my road bike one time,” he said. “I was in my 30s. I broke my helmet, broke my shoulder, broke my thumb, and it knocked me unconscious. I lay in the road for I don’t know how long before someone found me and took me to the hospital. If I hadn’t had a helmet on, I’d be dead.”

But wearing a helmet does not prevent accidents.

“While wearing a helmet is a good idea and one we should all follow, it likely would not save someone’s life when they are hit by a 2-ton motor vehicle at speeds greater than 20 mph,” said Cynthia Gibson, executive director of Idaho Walk Bike Alliance. “Further, a helmet would do nothing to prevent the crash in the first place.”

Cycling experts urge safety especially since school is out and more bikes will be on the road.

Gibson encourages cities across the state to install, and bikers to use, bike lanes and separate bike paths.

Chris Staley, president of the Idaho Falls Community Pathways said education for both bikers and motorists will also promote safety. His No. 1 piece of advice: Stop unpredictable behavior by cyclists.

“There’s a saying: Ride your bike like you drive a car,” Staley said. “Ride in a straight line, not wandering all over the road. Act like a vehicle would.”

He said many of the issues could be solved by bikers obeying traffic law, such as not riding against traffic.

“Ride on the right side of the road, but not so far right that it tempts people to try to pass you without changing lanes to pass,” he said. “If you crowd the shoulder people will think they can go by without changing lanes.”

Staley said children need to be properly trained by their parents to ride safely and learn traffic laws.

“When I was a kid I received no training from my parents,” he said. “They just set me loose on a bike. Kids are totally unpredictable. Motorists should always use caution around them.”

A few road rules can be confusing to uninformed motorists. Idaho allows cyclists to use stop signs as yield signs and stop at red lights then continue through a red light when an intersection is clear. It is also legal for cyclists to ride two abreast when not impeding traffic.

Idaho Transportation Department offers teaching materials for youngsters emphasizing helmet use, proper hand signals and traffic laws. A tricky and informative “Bicycle Safety Quiz” can be found on the department’s website.

Both the transportation department and Staley have words of caution for motorists. The state recommends at least 3 feet of space around cyclists and changing lanes to pass.

“For motorists, I would say slow down when you see cyclists,” Staley said. “It gives you more time to react.”

“Motorists should realize that people outside a car — a bicyclist, a pedestrian, a motorcyclist — don’t have the same protective bubble as drivers,” Gibson said.

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