Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Five Layers of Safety for Bicyclists

The Five Layers of Safety for Bicyclists

Because cycling involves our personal safety, we often react quite emotionally to situations on the road. Many people tell me that they won't ride 'because it is too dangerous'. The data show us otherwise, but folks who have been overwhelmed by their fears rarely are convinced by logical data.

I frequently tell my fellow cyclists who are anxious that cycling is safer than it looks or feels-- and, at the same time, it can be fatal if either you or another road user make a bad error.
I don't like the word "accident".

From "An accident is a specific, identifiable, unexpected, unusual and unintended external event which occurs in a particular time and place, without apparent or deliberate cause but with marked effects".
Thus, we cannot do anything about accidents because they are "without apparent or deliberate cause". However, almost all bike crashes have a very apparent cause. They are not accidents, they are crashes that happened due to errors.

We can control most of our personal errors and we can ride in a way that can negate many motorist errors.
Check out the Data: Only 18% of bike crashes involve cars. More importantly, roughly 47% —almost half! —of all car-bike crashes are caused by bicyclist errors.

Common cyclist errors include running stop signs and red lights, riding against traffic, riding at night without lights or reflective gear, turning left from the right hand curb, passing on the right side of a right turning motor vehicle and so on.

Smarter more skillful cycling can eliminate cyclist error as a factor in car-bike crashes.
Motorist error causes about 53% of total car-bike crashes, or about 9% of all categories of bike crashes. Smarter cycling can help avoid most motorist errors. Unfortunately, not all motorist errors can always be avoided by even the most skillful cyclists. But don’t be too scared—accident statistics show that for experienced cyclists bicycling is less dangerous than driving a car.

The five layers of safety are bike skills and habits that can help you ride more safely and more confidently. The League of American Bicyclists ( and Fred Oswald, LCI #947 developed this material. I modified it a bit.

Layer 1 - Control your bike. About half of all cyclist accidents are single rider crashes. If you can skillfully control your bike by starting, stopping, and smoothly turning, you can better avoid falling. Learn how to control your bike when you need to stop or turn quickly.

Layer 2 - Know and follow the rules of the road. A bike is a legal vehicle in all 50 states. As a vehicle driver, you are required to obey all traffic laws, signs, and signals.

Ride in the direction of traffic, on the right side of the road. Never ride against traffic.

Intersections are where most car-bike crashes occur. Use the right-most lane that goes in the direction you are traveling.

Use correct lanes for turns. Before you get to the intersection, position yourself in the proper lane.

Use hand signals to indicate your intentions whenever it is safe to do so.

When you are riding with other cyclists, stay alert and follow good group riding procedures. Use hand and voice signals. Cyclists riding in a group are much more likely to collide with one another than with motor vehicles.

Layer 3 – Ride in the smartest lane position. Know when you should take the full lane and when it is ok to share the lane with motor vehicles. Use your lane position to let other drivers know your intentions.

Many inexperienced cyclists will hug the far right edge of the road in an attempt to not obstruct motor vehicle traffic. Doing so on a narrow road leaves the cyclist no room to maneuver. Eventually a foolish motorist will try to squeeze by when there is insufficient room, putting the cyclist in grave danger.

In lanes that are too narrow to share with cars, you should ride closer to the center (about where a car’s right tire would be) instead of trying to squeeze closer to the right.
By using smart lane positioning and the first two layers, many accidents can be avoided.

Layer 4 – Manage hazards skillfully. Learn and practice evasive maneuvers such as the quick dodge, quick turn, and quick stop to either dodge obstacles or to avoid motorist's mistakes.
In tight traffic, taking evasive action might force you into another vehicle’s path.

When it isn’t safe to dodge or turn, you’ll need to master skills like riding or hopping over obstacles (potholes, debris, rocks, glass, trash), riding through hazardous surface conditions (oil slicks, sand, gravel) or stopping very quickly without losing control of your bike.

Layer 5 – Passive protection. When all else fails, helmets and gloves are your last line of protection. Make sure your CPSC-approved bike helmet fits properly— it should not wobble or flop around on your head when your chinstrap is buckled.

Even with a great helmet, you might be unconscious if you crash. Carry ID, any important medical info, emergency contacts, and your insurance information. Cell phones can be handy in an emergency.

We often think of bicycle crashes as accidents, events that happen to us that are beyond our control. While a small percentage of crashes may truly be accidents, beyond our control, cycling smarter can greatly reduce our probability of crashing. By maintaining awareness of our surroundings, making sure we are visible, and adhering to the five layers of safety, we can have a much safer bicycling experience. Enjoy the ride.

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