Saturday, July 19, 2008

A method to avoid major problems when biking at night

There is a major misunderstanding among cyclists that can cost you a lot of money and get you killed. You need to get this right or you might die riding your bike. Pay attention.

Here is the misunderstanding- If you ride in the city at night, you don't need a headlight. Street lights and your reflective clothing will suffice.

Wrong. You need a headlight for safety (and a tail light, too!). Good lights reduce your odds of being hit. The brighter, the better. And, headlights are required by law in all 50 states in darkness or low-visibility conditions. It is illegal to ride a bicycle on public roads without a working headlight.

1. Safety improves with a headlight

The number one reason motorists give for hitting a cyclist? "I didn't see her."

If you have been riding any length of time in recent years, you probably have a story or two about a close call with a motorist who was driving while distracted. Cell phones, kids, food, GPS, music, smoking, all of the above at the same time--- motorists are distracted.

Increasing your visibility is the best thing you can do to increase your safety.

Here is the cognitive process that transpires in a human mind in a split second: I see something- I recognize that it is a cyclist - the cyclist is on the road with me- I need to drive properly - I do it.

The sooner that decision process starts in the mind of the motorist, the sooner the motorist can start comprehending how to handle the car-bike traffic situation.

"But isn't a bright tail light enough to keep me safe?"

Nope, not at all. Here's why: Over ninety percent of all car-bike crashes happen from the front or side from turning or crossing traffic. A red rear blinky doesn't do you any good in preventing 90% of the crashes!

Increasing your visibility makes it more likely that you will be detected sooner by a motorist. If they detect you soon enough, the have a better chance of doing the right thing. If they don't see you in time... Well, I hope you are lucky that night.

Psychologists say that a motor vehicle presents a visual field that is seven times bigger than the visual field of a bicycle. Smaller road users need to do something special to be more easily detected by the bigger road users.

2. Cops, Lawyers and Money might not be so bad if you have a headlight

Not using a headlight at night can become a legal and financial liability. If you are not using a headlight and you get into a crash with an automobile, you might be held responsible for the crash and for all your costs and even for the motorist's damages. Your medical insurance company might try to deny payment for your injuries if you are found negligent. If you ride illegally (without a light at night) you might be seen as negligent and contributing to the accident even if you are otherwise doing everything right. Collecting damages from motorists is much more difficult when you are riding illegally.

If you don't have a headlight, you can be ticketed because you are breaking the law. In many places you absolutely will be ticketed by the police if you are not using a head light on your bike when it is dark. This happened to several friends of mine when I lived in Germany- the police there enforced the laws for all road users. Cyclists around the more enlightened parts of the USA have been cited for not having working lights at night. This does not yet happen in Memphis, but I think that as more and more Memphians turn to cycling for basic transportation needs, enforcement of the law will become necessary.

3. It is cheaper than you think, and they don't weigh that much.

"But, headlights are too expensive! And they are heavy!" some say.

Headlights are not free, that's for sure- the best and brightest can cost several hundred dollars! However, you can find a "Be Seen" light-- one that clips on to you handlebars or helmet, that is in the $20-30 range. A small price to pay to keep your bike, and yourself, from getting crushed by a motorist who cannot see you in time.

And, modern lights are much lighter than they were a few years ago-- you no longer have to lug around a 2 pound battery to power your lights. There are plenty of powerful lights that run on AA batteries. No hassle, no big deal. The best ones attach in seconds-- no excuses for not using one.

How much is your life worth? If you are unlucky and get into a crash becaue you are not seen, think about this for a moment, grasshopper. An ambulance ride to The Med costs about $550-- the ER costs are astronomical. And then, there is your pain, suffering, and possible death-- and, OMG! Your bike gets smashed!

4. Bottom Line

Almost all the cyclists who are hit at night believe that the motorists could have seen them and should have seen them. Almost all the motorists say the same thing "I didn't see him." What the motorists should really say is "I didn't see him IN TIME."

Lights get you recognized faster. Lights help a lot. Friends don't let friends ride without lights. Check out the Youtube video below.

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