As spring turns to summer, bikers will be out in full force in the Washington, DC area-where the number of workers who commute by bike is more than six times the national average. With warm weather and National Bike to Work Day approaching, bicycle safety is increasingly important for DC residents to know.
Cyclists should be knowledgeable of and obey the laws of traffic, as cycling injuries are most often caused by collisions with motor vehicles in urban areas. To prevent collisions from occurring, cyclists should ride with traffic and be predictable to others on the road.
Bikers can also prevent injury by properly using safety equipment. Helmets are the most poignant example of this and should be warn by every rider, regardless of local laws. Of those who die in bicycle accidents, 63% were not wearing helmets. However, helmets are not the only piece of equipment that can save lives. If riding at night, lights and reflectors are required on all bikes in DC, Maryland and Virginia, and bells are required on all bikes in DC. By using these pieces of equipment, riders can increase their safety while sharing the road.
Before beginning their rides, bikers should make sure to do a Pre-Ride Check. Capital Bikeshare recommends the following:
• “Air: Push each tire hard against a curb. If you can flatten it, it needs air.
• Wheel Spin: Lift each wheel up and give it a slow spin (spin the back wheel forward so the pedals don’t move). Check that the wheel spins freely and doesn’t rub against the brake pads or anything else.
• Tires: Turn each wheel slowly and look for cuts, bulges, or bubbles.
• Shifting: Try all of your gears to make sure the chain shifts smoothly between gears.
• Brakes: Check that both brakes are functional.
• Loose Parts: Pick up the bike and shake it. You shouldn’t hear anything rattling.”
Finally, bikers should take advantage of bike paths, bike trails, and bike lanes wherever possible in order to ensure a safer ride. By planning their routes with safety in mind, cyclists can have peace of mind while navigating the city.
Drivers also have an obligation to make the road a safe place for bicyclists. Laws in DC, Maryland, and Virginia require drivers to give at least three feet of space to bikers when passing, and motorists should be observant of cyclists when passing, turning, and exiting their vehicles. With all parties involved committed to sharing the road, bikers can remain safe during their commutes.
The Washington Area Bicyclist Association is a good resource for those interested in learning more about bicycle safety. WABA hosts classes for bikers, organizes biking events, and has a collection of laws and guidelines for those in the DC area.