Riding a bicycle has long been a favorite activity for children. Today, it’s also one of the best ways for adults to exercise and commute, while saving money on gas and reducing pollution.

Since cyclists have less protection than those riding in cars, accidents can be very dangerous. Luckily, many cycling accidents can be avoided with the proper preparation and knowledge of bicycle safety tips.

Common Bicycle Safety Issues

cyclists treated in emergency rooms in 2015National Safety Council

Cyclists often share the road with vehicles, which presents a variety of potential hazards. But accidents can also occur on designated bike paths and other areas that are free from traffic.

Common bicycle safety issues that can lead to an accident include:

  • Riding a bike that’s too big, difficult to control, or has faulty brakes
  • Not wearing adequate protection, such as a bike helmet, bright clothing during the day, and reflective gear at night
  • Riding against traffic
  • Failing to obey signals, signs, and road markings, as you would in an automobile
  • Failing to signal turns or lane changes
  • Failing to avoid hazards in the bicycle’s path, including stones, grates, and potholes
  • Riding while distracted, such as while texting
  • Neglecting pedestrians
  • Riding on the sidewalk, which is illegal in many states

Important: All 50 states require cyclists to obey the same laws and rules of the road as motorists.

Bicycle Safety Tips

With nearly 80 million cyclists sharing the road with motor vehicles in the U.S., following bicycle safety rules is incredibly important. Here are some tips that can help you stay safe and prevent accidents while out on your bike.

Perform a Quick Bike Safety Check

Before hitting the road, check all of the following parts of your bike to ensure they are in good working order.

Pre-Ride Bicycle Safety Checklist
  • Tires and wheels (including quick-release mechanisms)
  • Gears
  • Brakes
  • Reflective elements and lights
  • Pedals and cycling shoes (be sure the mechanism locks and releases properly)

If any of these parts are broken or otherwise working improperly, be sure to have them inspected and fixed by a professional before riding the bike again.

Wear a Helmet

Most cyclist deaths involve a serious injury to the head and brain. Wearing a helmet reduces your risk of head injury by about 60% and brain injury by about 58%.

In 21 states, the District of Columbia, and over 200 localities, helmet laws exist and apply to cyclists under the age of 17. Regardless of your age of the laws of your state, you should always wear a helmet while cycling, even for short distances.

When purchasing your bike helmet, but sure that it fits securely and meets federal safety standards. Look for one constructed with EPS foam and a thin plastic shell. There should also be sticker on the interior indicating that the helmet meets the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s (CPSC) standard.

Use Bike Paths and Lanes

Most cyclist deaths take place in urban areas away from intersections.

Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute

Bike paths and lanes are present in many communities, and are designed to keep cyclists safe. Use the paths and lanes when you can, and follow the direction they indicate.

Ride With the Flow of Traffic

All states require cyclists to ride with the flow of traffic. Studies show that your risk of having an accident is 3.6 times higher when traveling against traffic, and up to 6.6 times higher for those aged 17 and younger. A typical motorist scans the traffic moving in the lawful direction, which can cause them to overlook wrong-way traffic.

Behave Like a Motorist

According to all state laws, cyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as motorists on the road. This means you’re required to obey all traffic laws and lights. You should also avoid weaving in and out of traffic, and yield to traffic and pedestrians when appropriate.

Ride Predictably and Signal Turns

Riding predictably means not taking motorists by surprise. Before making a turn or changing lanes, look around and make eye contact with the drivers nearby. Alert them that you’re about to turn or move right or left by using appropriate arm and hand signals. If turning or moving left, extend your left arm and point to the left, and vice versa with the right.

In the past, a right turn was signaled with the left arm, but because many drivers don’t know the rule, this gesture is rarely used. A good rule of thumb is to always look, signal, and look again.

Avoid Busy Streets

Some motorists do not drive carefully around bikes and may endanger your safety. Generally, try to use quieter roads where vehicles are less likely to be driving fast. Try to plan your route before setting out.

Stay visible

When a motorist can see you, they’re less likely to hit you. In addition to strapping on your bike helmet before a ride, wear bright clothing while riding during the day and reflective gear at night. You should also equip your bicycle with reflectors and lights for low-light conditions.

Stay Alert

Riding a bicycle demands the same level of attention as driving a car. It’s important to pay attention to your surroundings, listen for the sounds of nearby vehicles, and keep both hands free in case you need to break suddenly, so distractions like music and texting can be dangerous. Always keep an eye out for obstacles in your path, and watch out for pedestrians and open vehicle doors. Equipping your bicycle with a rear-view mirror, horn or bell, and a bright headlight is highly recommended.

Bicycle Safety Rules of the Road

All 50 states require cyclists to follow the same laws as motorists. Cyclists also are entitled to the same rights and responsibilities as other vehicle operators.

While U.S. traffic laws do vary slightly by state, here are some key principles to remember:

  • Follow all signs, signals, and road markings.
  • Ride on the right when safe to do so.
  • Yield to crossing traffic when you don’t have the right of way.
  • Yield and signal when changing lanes.
  • Never hold or hitch onto vehicles.
  • Follow speed positioning, with slowest vehicles and bicycles staying farthest to the right, and only passing on the left.
  • Adhere to lane positioning, riding three feet to the right of traffic when sharing lanes, or riding in the middle if the lane is not wide enough to share.
  • Follow intersection positioning, using the right-most lane when a lane is used for more than one direction.

What to Do If You Have a Cycling Accident

It can be frightening for a cyclist to get into an accident with a motor vehicle, but it’s important to remain calm. Whether you are in a bicycle accident yourself or a witness to one, here are some things you can do.

  • Move out of traffic and away from further danger
  • Avoid moving an injured person unless it’s absolutely necessary to get them out of harm’s way, especially if you suspect they may have a spine or neck injury.
  • Never try to remove the helmet of someone who may have spine or neck injury.
  • Call an ambulance if anyone is badly injured.
  • Call the police if the accident is serious or if there is debris in the road.
  • Do not leave the scene until the police arrive and have taken your statement.
  • Consider visiting a medical professional even if you aren’t visibly hurt, since some injuries are not immediately noticeable.
  • Get the license plate numbers of any motor vehicles involved.
  • Gather contact information, including the driver’s phone number.
  • Write down the details of the accident and take photos of the scene and your injuries.

The most important thing you can do after being in an accident is to remove yourself from further danger. Remain calm, assess your injuries, and wait for the emergency services to arrive.

Bicycle Safety Statistics

According to statistics from the National Safety Council, 488,123 cyclists were treated in emergency rooms in 2015 after getting into an accident on their bike. In 2014, cyclists accounted for 2% of all crash-related injuries and 2% of all traffic deaths in the U.S.

Cyclists aged 50 to 59 are at the greatest risk of being involved a fatal cycling accident. Men are involved in six times more fatal accidents than women, and are injured four times as often. Most cyclist deaths take place in urban areas and at non-intersection locales.

Children and teens experience more cycling-related injuries than adults, although these are less likely to be fatal. Ensure your child is familiar with cycling safety tips and always wears a helmet while riding to reduce their risk of serious injury.

By following a few simple safety tips and practices, you can dramatically reduce your risk of being involved in an accident while cycling. Remember to use bike paths and lanes when you can, wear your helmet, and be aware of other road users at all times.