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Common rules and safety tips for cyclists

Bicycling’s popularity is at an all-time high.

It doesn’t matter if people are pedaling their bikes for physical exercise and health reasons, or if they are simply reducing their transportation costs and reducing the size of their carbon footprint — or both. It is simply a wonderful way of being close to the sights and smells of nature while going someplace.

As long as you get there safely.

Now, many states and communities are promoting the benefits of bicycling and offering safe bicycle paths and bicycle lanes. Cities promote themselves and pat themselves on the back by saying they are “bicycle friendly.” Still, many cyclists share the same streets as pedestrians and cars and trucks. And, as such, need to follow safety precautions when hitting the road.

Although traffic policies and roadway design in some areas of the country are gradually growing more conducive to bicycling safely, little has been done to educate motorists about cyclists’ rights or systematically enforcing traffic laws that allow cycling on most streets and roadways. Cyclists often feel like some motorists simply don’t acknowledge their existence on the roads and drive like they and their bicycles don’t exist. Even if true, many cyclists also seem to feel that by riding a bike they can ignore traffic regulations. Many injuries are the result of a cyclist engaging in illegal or irresponsible behavior.

Here are some common rules and safety tips to follow.

1. A bicycle is a vehicle. View a bicycle as an “equal” to cars and other vehicles. A bicycle is not an inferior vehicle and shouldn’t be treated as such.

2. Ride where bicycles are permitted. In most areas of the country, bicyclists are allowed to use the roadway or shoulder of all roads, streets or highways, except for interstates. Generally, cyclists should keep to the right of roads, allowing faster vehicles to pass at their leisure. However, cyclists should not ride to the right so much so that they are injured by doors opening on parked cars or other obstructions. They also should not ride so far to the right that they seem to be inviting a following car to try and squeeze through in their lane. The width of normal travel lanes permit bicyclists to ride side by side (two abreast) in a single lane. Most states recognize this right by allowing bicyclists to ride two abreast, but no more than that.

3. Signal your intentions. Hand signaling generally went by the wayside with the introduction of automated car signals (blinkers), but cyclists are still instructed to use them. By using hand signals, you can safely indicate turns or when you need to change lanes.

4. Bicycling on the sidewalk. The legality of this form of riding varies from state to state and community to community. Many new subdivisions have designed sidewalks to double as bike lanes. Check with local law enforcement personnel to learn if it is permitted in your area. Generally, cycling on the sidewalk is forbidden in business districts or congested urban areas.

5. Safety equipment required. Some states mandate that a helmet be worn when riding a bicycle. Even if it isn’t a law in your area, it’s a smart idea in the event of a fall or crash. A helmet is only effective if it fits you properly. Make sure it is snug to your head and that the chin strap fits comfortably. Additionally, the use of a headlight and taillight may be needed for nighttime riding. Some states will allow a rear, red reflector in place of a taillight.

6. Common traffic infractions. Most injuries occur when cyclists drive against the flow of traffic, fail to stop at red lights or stop signs and merge into roads without clearing oncoming traffic. Follow the rules of the road as if you were driving any other vehicle.

7. Impaired driving. A bicycle may be lighter than a car and less imposing. However, operating one under the influence of alcohol or drugs can be dangerous and is a punishable offense.

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