Simple precautions to stay safe while cycling

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Cycling can be an easier and more sustainable way to travel, with an upward trend in bicycle share programs leading to more inexperienced cyclists. It is important to stay safe while riding, especially since most bicycle deaths occur in urban areas and non-intersection locations, says David Schwebel, Ph.D., a psychology professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham who studies unintentional injury in children, adolescents and young adults.

Bicyclists should be predictable, visible and aware as they move through their cities and neighborhoods. By taking precautions before you ride and while you are riding, you can significantly decrease the risk of injury or death while riding a bicycle."

Schwebel, associate dean for Research in the UAB College of Arts and Sciences

Bicycle safety is simple with a little preparation and attention to potential harm.

Always wear a helmet

Almost 74 percent of fatal bicycle crashes involve head injury, according to a study published in Cochrane Reviews. It is crucial to protect your body while riding a bicycle, including your head. "Helmets save lives," said Roderick Wilkins, captain of Housing and Special Operations with UAB Police and Public Safety. "If the helmet does not fit properly, it can leave important areas of the head exposed to injury." Find a helmet that fits snugly with the strap on. States have various laws regarding cyclists' wearing helmets, but for safety it is recommend that everyone wear a helmet when riding. Cyclists should check to make sure the helmet is ANSI- or SNELL-approved by the federal government.

Wear clothing that is tight and bright

What a cyclist is wearing matters. Wear clothing that is bright and fits tight. Clothing that is easily seen enables cars to see cyclists. This is especially important at dusk, at dawn and at night. A cyclist's clothing should have reflectors on it or be bright in color. Avoid loose clothing that could get caught in the bicycle. Long pants and long sleeves could protect against scrapes but should fit tightly. In warmer weather, consider wearing knee and elbow pads. "Avoid dark clothing when riding a bicycle," Schwebel said. "Dark colors make it difficult for drivers of cars to see a bicyclist. If possible, I recommend not riding bicycles after dark when it is harder for motorists to see cyclists."

Perform a strict pre-ride checklist

Assess your bicycle and its road-readiness. Go through a check list to ensure your bicycle is appropriately sized and maintained. "Danger can occur if the bicycle fails at the wrong time," Schwebel said. "Having a quick pre-ride checklist to ensure your bicycle is safe can decrease the risk of injury."

Check these things before hopping on your bike:

  • It is the right size -; one too big can be harder to control.
  • Adjust the seat to fit height.
  • Tires are properly inflated.
  • Install reflectors on front and back of bicycle.
  • All parts are working properly.
  • Grease chains, if needed.

Know the rules of the road

Bicyclists must know the rules of road and follow them to ensure everyone's safety. "Cyclists are considered vehicles when riding in the street," Wilkins said. "It is important to learn and follow the rules as a motorist and as a cyclist to help protect anyone who is traveling."

Rules to keep in mind include:

  • Never ride against the flow of traffic.
  • Obey all traffic laws, signs and signals.
  • Pedestrians always have the right of way if riding on the sidewalk.
  • Use hand signals.
  • Look both ways before crossing the street.

"If drivers know where you are going, they will be able to respond and avoid you, just as they would avoid other vehicles," Schwebel said. Using hand signals allows others to know what intentions are being communicated. Just as a motorist would, tell others what you are doing and where you are going. The most important hand signals to know include left or right turn. Signal a left turn by extending the left hand out. To signal a right turn, extend the left arm out from the body pointing the forearm and hand up in a right angle.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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