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Road Safety 101: How to Be Safe as a Detroit Cyclist

Riding a bicycle is an economical way to get around town or to get some exercise. But riding a bike is also a good way to get hurt if you should happen to be in a bicycle accident.

Because bicyclists have little protection in a crash, they are likely to suffer such injuries as broken bones, head or traumatic brain injury (TBI), or a back injury, as well as cuts and bruises. The most serious bike accidents are accidents that involve cars hitting bicyclists.

Michigan State Police reported 1,749 bicycle accidents statewide in 2014, including 383 in Wayne County (Detroit), more than twice as many as in any other county. Statewide, bike crashes involved 1,938 "motor vehicles in transport" (to quote police lingo), which means bikes hit by cars, trucks, motorcycles or buses. Note that the numbers show that more than one vehicle was involved in several accidents.

Most bike accidents - 1,218 statewide and 263 in Wayne County - happen on local streets, as opposed to state or U.S. highways.

People suffered personal injuries in 1,527 bike accidents involving motor vehicles in Michigan last year - that's more than 87 percent of last year's car-bike collisions. There were 20 fatal bike accidents involving motor vehicles.

So, yes, you can expect to get hurt if you get hit by a car while on a bicycle, even if you're just out for a ride in your own neighborhood. Let's look at some ways to keep that from happening.

Staying Safe on a Bike is Up to You

Here are 5 tips for safe bike riding and avoiding car accidents:

  1. Protect your head. Always wear a bicycle helmet while riding a bike, no matter how short the trip. Select a helmet that fits properly, which means it fits on top of your head, not tipped back. The straps should be joined just under each ear at the jawbone and when buckled should be snug when your mouth is completely open.
  2. Stay to the right. Ride with the flow of traffic, not against it. The Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, which is funded by the Federal Highway Administration, says crash data tells us that getting hit from behind is extremely unlikely. Riding against traffic makes you more likely to be hit by a car making a right turn onto the road ahead of you because the motorist is looking the other way to check for traffic. Ride in the bike lane, bike route, paved shoulder or trail, if available.
  3. But not too far to the right. Sometimes it's safer to ride far enough to the left that you take up the whole lane, Bicyclesafe.com site suggests. Occupying the lane makes you more visible to motorists and makes it less likely a car will pass you too closely on a narrow road. It's also good to stay a few feet to the left when cars are parked alongside the road to avoid having a car door suddenly opened right in front of you.
  4. Follow rules of the road. Obey lane markings, stop signs and stoplights, and yield to traffic when appropriate, including pedestrians. Signal your turns either electronically or by hand. Michigan law (Section 257.648(4) of the MVC) requires extending your left or right arm to signal a turn to the left or right, respectively, or holding your left arm out and upward at a right angle to signal a left turn. To signal slowing or stopping, extend your left hand and arm downward.
  5. Make yourself visible. Be where motorists expect to see you, and be especially careful at driveways and intersections, where you are at greater risk of being hit by a motorist not paying attention or looking the other way. Ride in a straight line, not in and out of cars. Don't pass cars between lanes of traffic. Don't pass on the right unless you are in a dedicated bike lane. If you ride at night (or at dawn or dusk), have a headlight and at least a rear reflector on your bike. Wear bright colors or reflective material, such as a reflective riding vest.
  6. Avoid busy streets. Learn routes to your regular destinations that have fewer and slower cars. Take cross streets and alleyways, or cross parking lots instead of traveling main arteries. When crossing busy streets, stop at intersections and consider walking your bike across the roadway.