Friday, September 26, 2008

Bicycle Safety

As a commuter via automobile, motorcycle, and bicycle, I am keenly aware of the dynamic interactions between vehicles of differing proportions. As a result, I ride my “higher risk” conveyances very cautiously and try to avail myself of the safest route in a given situation. According to Washington State law, a bicycle is considered a vehicle and is expected to follow the same rules as motor vehicles. Yet there are many situations when it is simply suicidal to pretend I’m anything but a bike (narrow, winding, shoulder-less roads with fast moving traffic, to name one). I want to share a situation that I encounter nearly every bike commuting day, with the hope that a little education will result in greater safety for cyclists. Two streets intersect, and the street I’m traveling on has stop signs. I stop and wait for an opportunity to cross the intersection. Invariably a car will stop for me, even though it doesn’t have to, intending to yield the right of way. This is a courteous, thoughtful, and dangerous thing to do. It is dangerous because the motorist cannot force the traffic in the opposing lane to stop for me. It reminds me of the fairly common situation in which a motorist traveling in the left lane stops for an oncoming car turning left in front of him. This seems to be the "nice" thing to do, but the motorist cannot control whether the driver in the right lane will stop. Treating bicyclists more like motorists, and less like a special class of vehicle, is safer for everyone concerned. Although the situation usually dictates the best course of action, a good rule of thumb is -- if you wouldn’t yield the right of way to a car, you probably shouldn’t do it for a cyclist.

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