Don’t Be A Bicycling Statistic: One Key Way To Stay Safer

Tanya Connolly, 37, crushed under a tractor-trailer in South Boston last Monday. Doan Bui, 63, killed by a speeding pickup truck on a busy Dorchester thoroughfare the Friday before. Alexander Motsenigos, 41, victim of a hit-and-run in surburban Wellesley late last month.

In major metropolitan areas like Boston, it often seems as if every week brings news of another bicycling death — or, as in this past week, more than one — usually in an unequal clash between vehicle and rider. Biking experts say that as more people take to two-wheel travel — surely a good thing — more accidents are also likely. Below, writer David C. Holzman describes his own bike crash, and shares a key safety technique that many riders ignore: Helmets save lives, but they have to be worn right.

By David C. Holzman
Guest contributor

The treetops seemed far away, as if through the wrong end of a telescope. They were all green, leafy, and dreamlike — like my memory of Seattle before I moved away at age eight.

The dream quickly soured as it began to dawn on me that I might have had a bicycle crash. But that didn’t make sense. Even in my stupor, I remembered that I was a very experienced cyclist, and very safety-conscious.

I began trying to wake myself up, as I’d done so easily in the lucid dreams of my early childhood. But it wasn’t working, and I couldn’t even shift the scene. Shock was cushioning me, like emotional Novocaine; nonetheless, I could feel the fear growing ominously more perceptible.

“When you are hit by a car, if your helmet can move, it will.’
Now I saw two women standing over me. “Am I dreaming?” I asked, fully expecting I was. (I had to be. Crashes didn’t happen to me.) “No, honey, you not dreaming,” one of them said in a dialect common in northeast Washington, DC.

I took five or ten seconds to grasp that I really was lying on my back in the street, and not in a bad dream. Once I did, I thanked the women “for watching over me,” actually thinking that they had come to protect me, the feelings of gratitude washing over me like an ocean wave on a beach.

Then one of them asked me for two dollars. Heretofore, I hadn’t moved a voluntary muscle outside of those involved in speech, but now, almost as if her voice was a hotline to my motor cortex, I pulled my wallet from my pocket, opened it, found a twenty and two ones, and gave her the latter. Had she asked for the twenty, I probably would have given that to her.

Memorial for a bicycle crash victim in Cambridge (Rachel Zimmerman)

Memorial for a bicycle crash victim in Cambridge (Rachel Zimmerman)

Soon the women had disappeared, and a crowd gathered. I asked someone where I was. I was able to trace the route in my mind from my home, at 1200 Jackson St. North East, two miles to Rhode Island Avenue and First Street North West, but I still didn’t know where I had been going, or even whether I still worked at Insight Magazine, or whether I had been laid off, an event which had occurred four and a half months earlier.

Then someone informed me that my face was “all messed up.” I don’t understand why, but suddenly my head was much clearer, and I knew I would be fine.

I looked at my watch. It was 8:20 a.m. on September 6, 1991. I realized I’d been on my way to the doctor’s office, for an annual checkup. I’d crashed about 10 minutes earlier. I’d have to reschedule the appointment.

The guy who told me my face was messed up was partially correct. As my then-four-year-old niece, Beth, said with obvious bemusement when she first saw me the next day, “Uncle David, you need to wash your face!”

I’d been going around 15 to 18 mph when I hit a large bump in the road that I hadn’t seen, wrenching the handlebars out of my hands. That’s the last thing I remember. Despite the tight chin straps, the force of the crash on my helmet had pushed it so far askew that my cheekbone had kissed the pavement, acquiring an impressive bruise, and a laceration which I think had to be taped shut. Luckily the straps had been tight enough to keep my helmet on my skull, or I probably would not be writing this warning.

So I’ve been appalled to see air between the chin straps of helmets and the chins of about one third of the cyclists on the Minuteman Trail, where I run or ride my bicycle just about every day. Chin straps on helmets should be snug, like one’s shoe laces.

When I informed one woman — a graduate of the University of California at Davis, no less — that her helmet was too loose, she used one finger from each hand to very daintily apply torque to her helmet, to show me that it was tight. Others have similarly shown their ignorance of the power of the forces that occur during a crash. If bicycle crashes were that gentle, you wouldn’t need to wear a helmet.

Randy Swart, director of the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute in Arlington, VA: “Some riders leave their straps so loose–or even unbuckled–that in a crash the helmet may move enough to leave part of the head uncovered, and if that hits the pavement, the likelihood of disabling brain damage becomes much greater. Other riders leave the straps less loose, but still loose enough that the helmet could be dislodged in a first impact — whether with a car or the pavement — leaving the head vulnerable to any secondary impact, just as if you were not wearing a helmet at all.”

I consider the bicycle shops and other stores selling helmets and failing to inform customers of the need for tight chin straps to be grossly irresponsible. Guys, are you listening?

My former optometrist had to give up her practice after she fell on a bicycle path, hitting her bare head, while barely moving.

Of course, many cyclists don’t wear helmets at all. If you’re cycling without a helmet, or with loose chin straps, you’re taking your livelihood, and perhaps your life, into your hands, even on a bicycle path. My former optometrist had to give up her practice after she fell on a bicycle path, hitting her bare head, while barely moving.

Helmet use reduces the risk of head injury by 85 percent, according to an estimate by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute says is the best source of bicycle fatality statistics on the web. In New York City, three quarters of all fatal crashes involved a head injury, and nearly all bicyclists who died -— 97% -— were not wearing a helmet, according to the helmet safety institute. (That statistic may be due partially to helmet-wearing cyclists being safer riders than those without helmets.)

According to the Snell Memorial Foundation, “the number of bicycling head injuries requiring hospitalization exceeds the total of all the head injury cases related to baseball, football, skateboards, kick scooters, horseback riding, snowboarding, ice hockey, in-line skating, and lacross.” (No statistics were given on the numbers of cyclists, vs. the numbers in all these other pursuits, so this comparison, while compelling, is hard to interpret.)

How to pick a safe helmet

In buying a bicycle helmet, “The most important thing is to make sure it fits properly,” says Swart of the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute. “It needs to fit so that it feels snug on your head and so that it won’t move more than an inch in any direction. When you are hit by a car, if your helmet can move, it will.”

All bicycle helmets are designed to the same Consumer Product Safety Commission (CSPC) standard, says Swart, adding that a helmet with a higher price doesn’t mean it’s a better helmet. (If the helmet is not certified by the CSPC, or by ANSI or Snell for older helmets, don’t buy it.)

Be visible

Besides protecting your head, you want to be visible. To that end, wear one of those lime green cycling jerseys that are hard to miss even from several blocks away. The sooner motorists see you, the less likely they will hit you.

At night, wear light-colored clothing, preferably white. It also helps to have a white helmet. If you do a lot of night riding, you probably should have a very bright headlight and tail light that are also easily visible from the side, as well as from front and back. I don’t bicycle at night anymore, but when I did—infrequently—I used to carry a large white T-shirt in my backpack that could go on over whatever I was already wearing. (I keep a large white T-shirt in the trunk of the car in case I get stuck on the side of the road on a dark night.)

If you cycle infrequently at night and you don’t want to weigh your bicycle down with accessories, the blinking red and white lights you can purchase at most bicycle stores can do a good job of making you visible if you wear them correctly.

Wear enough of them so you can be seen easily from any angle, including a white light for the front. Make sure that when you are in your riding position, they are neither blocked (by a loose shirt or a backpack, for example) or poorly positioned (for example, pointing upwards instead of to the rear when you’re leaning forward on your handlebars). And always make sure your batteries are still strong. I’ve seen cyclists in dark shirts and pants with a single red light pinned to their back, blinking so tepidly as to barely be visible from a couple of car lengths.

If you’re under 35 or so, all this focus on visibility may seem overwrought. But you need to realize that as people age, their night vision often fades.

Look behind you

I’ve found one other piece of safety equipment invaluable. I have a rear-view mirror that attaches to my spectacles. You can also get mirrors that attach to your helmet. Either works far better, in my opinion, than handlebar-mounted mirrors because you can move your head to scan behind you.

I got my first such mirror just before I rode across the country. It took the stress out of cycling on the long stretches in the Great Plains of North Dakota, when it seemed that all the grain trucks in the world were headed towards Duluth. When they were about to pass, I could see exactly how big they were and exactly how much room they were going to give us, and I could ignore their frequent honking, although one time I really did need to get onto the soft shoulder. I saved myself a lot of stress with that mirror, and my travel-mates were envious. It makes city traffic less stressful, too. In fact, the one time I broke one and didn’t have a spare, I was afraid to ride until I replaced it.

Tips for drivers

1. Give cyclists at least several feet when you pass them. Passing too close is very scary, and dangerous.

2. When you pass them, pass quickly. Cambridge drivers, in particular, seem to feel so guilty about driving—cars being evil and all—that they drive extremely slowly. I’ve had Cambridge drivers pass me so slowly that in the time they took to get around me, we could have had coffee together, like Henry Louis Gates, the police officer, and President Obama. When you do that to me, O Cambridge driver, you make me so nervous that if we were having coffee, I’d probably spill it all over myself, staining my lime green jersey. Just hit the gas and get around me!

3. Don’t honk at us. You startle the H-E-double hockeysticks out of us when you do. Rest assured we can hear you just fine without the horn.

4. Don’t open your car door without looking to see if a cyclist is coming. If you “door” a cyclist, you can seriously injure or kill them. A good way to get into the habit of looking is to open your car door with your right hand (if you’re on the left side of the car).

5. Add your own. Readers, do you have any tips to add for drivers or bicyclists?

Science and automotive journalist David Holzman

 

David C. Holzman wrote his first-ever article that was not for the college newspaper on bicycle safety. An avid cyclist, he figured that knowledge would boost his odds of avoiding trouble. By the time of the incident portrayed in this article, he’d logged around 60,000 miles total, much of it on the city streets of Washington, DC.

 

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  • Mark Boston

    In the end it’s simple: No Mass-holes ! Get in correct lane before last moment, signal in good time, don’t block, don’t crash lights, follow the Mass. rules of the road ! Applies to us all !

  • http://twitter.com/1dangerouself Mark Brewster

    Trotting out the 85% garbage again (been long disproven!)? It has ALSO been proven that a helmet’s protection ends at about 11-12mph; the only auto collisions that light are ones where the rider hits a stopped car!

    Bottom line — if a rider feels safer with a helmet, let him/her wear one. If not, go away. Your false statistics and anecdotal ‘evidence’ do nothing to change the FACT that helmet use has no proven merit.

  • Pedestrianite

    Don’t use scare tactics to sell bicycling and helmet use. No helmet is going to save you if you’re crushed by a truck or nailed by speeding driver.

    • Brimstone

      Most cycling injuries do not involve automobiles. Read the piece above, for example, about Holzman’s accident.

  • Brimstone

    Seems like it would be better and easier to carry a reflective vest for visibility rather than a white T-shirt.

    Helmet mirrors are the bomb. I noticed however that although I could see EVERYTHING behind me, much more than with an automobile rear view mirror, the cars behind me don’t know that I know they’re there because I don’t have to turn around to see them.. So now I make an extra effort to wave them around me. I think they really appreciate that- one thing that annoys drivers is they’re afraid to pass a cyclist because they think s/he might swerve towards them because the cyclists can’t see them.

    I also give the car a wave if they give me plenty of room when they pass. Just for good car-ma.

    I don’t for one second believe all these folks saying helmets are useless. Anything softer than a rock that is between your head and the road is gonna help you when your head hits that pavement. And I don’t care what they do in Holland, biking there and biking here is MUCH different and yes I lived in Europe for several years.

    But I don’t think helmets should be mandatory. Accidental health insurance should be. But not helmets. Because the thing that’s gonna make cycling safer most of all is getting more bikes on the road. Then drivers will pay attention, cyclists will act like vehicles, infrastructure will improve and maybe we’ll look more like Amsterdam.

    And get those damn earbuds out of your ears.

    • Dave Holzman

      I always wave cyclists around me, too, when it’s safe for them to get around me, and I do anything else I can think of to make it easier for cars to interact with me if it doesn’t interfere with my own safety.

      Reflective vests only reflect at night when the headlights are shining directly at them. Orange reflective material is extremely hard to see at night if little light is hitting it. Lime green is much better. I like a white shirt because it’s visible from all angles.

  • Jonah

    Please do real research next time before you post an article that implies the blame of cyclist deaths lies on them not wearing a helmet rather than how our transportation hierarchy and system is structured. Also, if you had done any research you would know that the likelihood of getting brain damage (Which occurs from rotational injuries rather than direct impacts) INCREASES when you wear a helmet because of its shape. The way for cyclists to be safer on the road is to have more cyclists on the road, not scare them by telling them they risk imminent death every time they go out for groceries.

    • http://www.facebook.com/susan.l.wolfe Susan L Wolfe

      Your assertion that brain damage occurs from rotational injuries, not direct impact, belies your ignorance on the subject. These are not opposing methods; one is a cause (direct impact) the other an effect (rotational injury). Briefly stated, “rotational trauma occurs when impact [direct or otherwise] causes the brain to move within
      the cranium at a different velocity than the skull” (Neuropathologies of Language and Cognition, CSU-Chico, Patrick
      McCaffey, Ph.D.).

      As to the efficacy of helmets, this tired present-day argument reminds
      me of the same old, worn-out tirades over the value of seat belts in cars back
      in the day (and a small
      minority still persists today).

      To your last point, who’s
      being scared not to get on a bicycle due the outside chance of “imminent death”? We also risk imminent death every time we
      get into an automobile
      (to buy groceries or not). Does that frighten us from not driving? The way for cyclists to be
      safer on the road is not necessarily to have more cyclists on the road (though I’m all for that), but to educate them on how to be
      safe — educate them on traffic safety, to obey all laws, the benefits of
      helmets, etc. because we DO all face, “imminent death” every time we go out on the road. That is why we must do everything we can
      to stay safe — to not be fearful, but careful.

      To your last point, who’s
      being scared not to get on a bicycle due the outside chance of “imminent death”? We also risk imminent death every time we
      get into an automobile
      (to buy groceries or not). Does that frighten us from not driving? The way for cyclists to be
      safer on the road is not necessarily to have more cyclists on the road (though I’m all for that), but to educate them on how to be
      safe — educate them on traffic safety, to obey all laws, the benefits of
      helmets, etc. because we DO all face, “imminent death” every time we go out on the road. That is why we must do everything we can
      to stay safe — to not be fearful, but careful.

      To your last point, who’s
      being scared not to get on a bicycle due the outside chance of “imminent death”? We also risk imminent death every time we
      get into an automobile
      (to buy groceries or not). Does that frighten us from not driving? The way for cyclists to be
      safer on the road is not necessarily to have more cyclists on the road (though I’m all for that), but to educate them on how to be
      safe — educate them on traffic safety, to obey all laws, the benefits of
      helmets, etc. because we DO all face, “imminent death” every time we go out on the road. That is why we must do everything we can
      to stay safe — to not be fearful, but careful.

      To your last point, who’s
      being scared not to get on a bicycle due the outside chance of “imminent death”? We also risk imminent death every time we
      get into an automobile
      (to buy groceries or not). Does that frighten us from not driving?
      The way for cyclists to be
      safer on the road is not necessarily to have more cyclists on the road (though I’m all for that), but to educate them on how to be
      safe — educate them on traffic safety, to obey all laws, the benefits of
      helmets, etc. because we DO all face, “imminent death” every time we go out on the road. That is why we must do everything we can
      to stay safe — to not be fearful, but careful.

      • Rob

        What’s been found is that rotational acceleration of the brain is far more damaging than linear acceleration. Yet bike helmets are tested only for linear acceleration, but are likely to increase rotational acceleration. If that were not the case, we wouldn’t see various manufacturers trying – so far, unsuccessfully – to market helmets designed to mitigate rotational acceleration.

        And if we must do everything we can to stay safe, why is it that ONLY bicyclists should wear helmets? Bicyclist head injury victims are tremendously outnumbered by motorists and pedestrians. Pedestrians even outnumber bicyclists on a per mile basis.

    • careyg

      Dear Jonah — I disagree that this article implies that the cyclist is to blame. The intro warns of the danger — which is very real — and the post shares well-researched wisdom about doing what we can to protect ourselves. Any biker who has to deal with drivers every day surely has plenty of anger, but I don’t think it should be directed at this very helpful piece.

  • TAPman

    Do you honestly feel that a helmet would have made any difference in the crashes listed at the beginning of this story?

  • http://www.facebook.com/miranda.davis.18062 Miranda Davis

    Bicyclist in groups should ride single file and stay w/in bike lanes. I see too many groups riding abreast, interfering with traffic, so they can chat with each other. Stupid much?

    • Brimstone

      Single file riding may or may not be the law depending on where you live. But how exactly does a group of 3 or 4 riders abreast “interfere with traffic”? You do realize that bikes ARE traffic, right? And you should be passing them like any other vehicle. You would have to go into the opposing lane to pass a car so how does having to do so to pass a group of cyclists any harder? It should be easier as they will likely be moving slower and you can pass them more quickly.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Sally.McClure.Dobyns Sally McClure Dobyns

    Mr. Holzman, Thank you for this article. I am a university professor in a town where drivers do not “share the road” and openly share their exasperation about the expectation that they should do so. Part of this is due to the number of uninformed cyclists who ride as if they are pedestrians. Might you add a tip for cyclists that once on wheels, they are “vehicles”…not pedestrians?

    • Dave Holzman

      You have added the tip. Thank you!

  • homebuilding

    Thank you @ Rob, for raising questions about the effectiveness of helmets.
    You can tell by looking at them that there is almost NO protection for anything but the top of the head. This story told of the author’s significant facial injuries–and obviously, his brain was injured to the point of altered consciousness.
    JUST ABOUT ANY SPORTS HELMET IS SUPERIOR TO A BIKE HELMET
    Nowhere, here was there adequate discussion of DEFENSIVE DRIVING ! To survive, you must assume that the driver is texting or aggressively seeking to strike you–only then are you a bit safer—but then, this author crashed because of an apparent pavement defect.
    It should be said that fatter tires are simply safer–but I don’t think you’ll see that in a bicycling magazine. Skinny is much faster and much lighter and much faster to penetrate a storm drain and kill your forward process, too.
    Further, leisurely riding on a sidewalk doesn’t challenge my manhood–that much.

    • http://www.facebook.com/susan.l.wolfe Susan L Wolfe

      Riding on a sidewalk is illegal in most, if not every, state, anyway.

      • Brimstone

        It’s not in Florida, in either direction, and though I avoid it most of the time sometimes it is the best option.

  • Dr. Tramp

    I lived in Europe for a number of years and while there got back into bicycle riding. It’s the most convenient and sensible way to get around most of the time and a great way to meet other people.
    Since moving back I still use a bicycle as my primary source of transportation. No, I don’t wear a helmet but then again I also don’t ignore red lights and stop signs, ride the wrong way down streets, dodge through traffic, or other stupidities that would up my odds of getting hurt.
    While I saw very few people, other than racers and small children, wearing helmets in Europe I did see major differences in the riding conditions between there and here.
    First of all almost everybody over there rides bicycles as children and many continue to do so as adults so even if they do eventually get a car, as drivers they have a lot more awareness and respect for people on bikes.
    Secondly there are usually well kept paths for walkers and bicycle riders between the villages and small towns and many cities have dedicated bicycle lanes. Blocking or parking in one is an expensive ticket.
    Lastly the bicycle riders themselves are much more observant of traffic laws than many of the riders I see here in the US.
    There are more differences but these are the primary ones I see every time I ride.

  • Russ

    Heres some tips:

    Don’t wear a helmut

    Riding without a helmut sharpens perception.

    Riding without a helmut gives one the proper sense of vulnerabilty.

    Riding with a helmut presents a larger target area for passing vehicles.

    Riding with a helmut increases your chance of being in an accident, although if you are in one, it is possible that you will receive critical protection from that helmut.

    Therefore, wear a helmut if and only if you feel the need. Don’t be pressured by interests that really want commuters staying in their cars (where they can listen to their radios) – a goal all the more successful if the impression is given that goofy alien transformations must be undergone in order to engage and survive the most sensible mode ever devised for getting from point A to point B.

  • http://www.oldtimeygear.wordpress.com/ Smithhammer

    Here’s another way for bicyclists to stay alive – OBEY TRAFFIC LAWS. I can’t believe how many bicyclists I see who don’t seem to think that things like stop signs, right of way, etc. actually apply to them as well as cars.

    • alice little

      Yes, it’s true that cyclists should obey traffic laws, but more importantly, cars should obey traffic laws, because they are the vehicles that cause the greatest injury and the most deaths. If everyone traveled at 20 mph in the city, there would be far fewer traffic accidents with cyclists, with other cars, and with pedestrians. The onus is and should always be first and foremost with the ones driving vehicles weighing over 1 ton.

      • http://www.oldtimeygear.wordpress.com/ Smithhammer

        No, the onus is on EVERYONE, equally. That’s my point – it’s not “more important” that one party or the other does, it’s essential that they both do. Just because you’re riding a bike, you don’t have any less responsibility to obey the law than a 1 ton car does.

        • alice little

          Agreed–everyone should obey the rules of the road. But my point is, every time a cyclist gets killed, people start talking about cyclists flouting laws of the road or not wearing sufficient safety gear. Fact is, automobile drivers flout the laws of the road, particularly speed, all the time, every day. And they are the ones will the capacity to kill. Cyclist rarely, if ever kill anyone (except themselves) when they flout the law. So, let’s focus on the real problem: it’s too easy to get a license in this country; people view driving as a right, not a privilege; people are not cautious and alert when they drive despite the danger they pose to cyclists and pedestrians and because they are rarely held accountable for vehicular homicide when they do injure/kill cyclists and pedestrians. (Instead, people say, “Oh, I feel so bad for the driver who killed the cyclist. She must feel so awful.”)

  • A cyclist’s perspective

    I would like to respond to those who are annoyed by many cyclists’ disregard for traffic laws. While it is certainly true that blatantly disregarding red lights and stop signs can be dangerous, the traffic laws and roads are clearly designed for cars rather than bicycles. As such, it is often safe (or even safer) for cyclists to violate traffic laws when cars should not. As one commenter points out, at a T intersection where traffic merges from the left, my bike in no way crosses the path of cars and so proceeding through a red light poses little danger. Similarly, if a cyclist stops at a red light and sees that there is no oncoming traffic, the danger of proceeding through the light is about the same as a pedestrian J-walking (that is, generally an accepted risk and a risk only to the person crossing as the bike will not hurt anyone when going a few miles per hour parallel to a crosswalk). It also often makes sense for cyclists to use the sidewalk to avoid parts of road that are particularly dangerous (or where no space is left for them between the curb and a lane full of cars). While come cyclists are clearly reckless (ie blowing through a red light without regard for traffic), not all cyclists who violate traffic laws are being thoughtless or even particularly dangerous.

  • http://www.facebook.com/stuart.knoles Stuart Knoles

    Motor vehicles are a dangerous phenomena. Helmets do not diminish that, but there is nothing that can justify putting your brain in jeopardy, is just a risk – could happen any time, one cannot predict. The helmet reduces the jeopardy. Using the bicycle is where it is. However, helmet laws are not so much to provide safer cycling, rather some responsibility can be shirked by the person operating the automobile if, by their driving, they strike someone using a bicycle. If the other person was not wearing a helmet, in could be deemed as dangerous cycling, even though a helmet has no bering on the incident, and would not have protected from the injuries sustained. Yes the use of the bicycle for travel and thus use of the road and street has always been the case (it was cyclists who pushed for road paving); now the use of the bicycle is increasing, therefore safe operation of motor vehicles must be enforced for that reason. The danger and liability of motor vehicle use cannot be shirked just because another person is traveling by bicycle.

  • mph66

    Perhaps the worst thing a driver can do is speed up to get in front of me and then immediately take a right turn and then stop in the “driveway” of wherever they’ve turned into, so that I have to swerve wildly to go around them or crash headlong into the side of their vehicle. Though I swear by my Shimano Ultegra brakes, I have nowhere near the stopping power that your SUV does. BTW, has anyone ever listened to Mem Shannon’s “SUV” song? It’s the theme song of urban cyclists everywhere!

  • Michael

    I’m taken aback by the scofflaw bicycle riders I see often at night in San Diego–no headlight, no red taillight, sometimes riding opposite traffic as they trundle down a busy street like a black phantom, dressed in black. Just plain idiots. Very few wearing a helmet, or a reflective vest. They just don’t give a rat’s patootie.

  • Lefty Ed

    As a comment for drivers moving past a cyclist on a two lane road: if there is another driver coming in the other direction, it is your legal responsibility to slow down enough or wait to pass the cyclist so that you don’t drive into (any part of) the oncoming lane. It amazes me how often a car will swerve partway into an oncoming lane to give room to a cyclist while risking a head-on crash with another car coming the opposite way. Those drivers seem to assume the oncoming car has recognized the situation and should just make room, instead of properly just slowing down to pass safely within the lane or waiting to pass.

  • Catherine

    Yes, wearing a helmet is an important and easy safety move for all cyclists. I never roll on two wheels without one. But you opened the story with a grim listing of recent killings of cyclists at the hands/wheels of motorists. Helmets didn’t and couldn’t help them. What will help the rest of us is an increased education program for police departments along with political motivation or pressure to get them to enforce traffic laws to protect citizen cyclists. As a bike commuter, cars regularly pass me on the left only to swerve in front of me to make a right turn, cutting me off. This is illegal. These people should be ticketed. People double-park in bike lanes on heavily-trafficked roads– their cars should be towed.

    Yes, cyclists running red lights should be ticketed. But focusing on the cyclists at the exclusion of the cars is not paying attention to the numbers– according to the League of American Bicyclists, 728 cyclists were killed by cars in 2010. In 2009, more than 4000 pedestrians were killed by cars (walkinginfo.org). Cyclists are here to stay, and our numbers are increasing. Motorists and police need to be educated and laws need to be enforced for our safety.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=598041184 Richard Burton

    David,

    your experience has convinced you that cycle helmets are effective, a common misconception. You are obviously intelligent and attend college, so why don’t you do some research on the subject of types of evidence, especially comparing anecdote to epidemiological data? You’ll find that anecdote is utterly useless and that the only reliable data is whole population long term studies.

    The long term whole population studies show clearly that there is no safety benefit from helmet wearing, but there are thousands of “helmet saved my life stories” just like yours. Either those stories are wrong, or just as many people are killed by their helmet as are saved by them. Why would you wear something just as likely to kill you as save you? The biggest ever research project into cycle helmets found a small but significant increase in risk with helmet wearing.

    You might also like to look at the countries with the safest cycling, Denmark and Holland, where you will find that almost no-one wears a helmet, so it is clear that cycling safety has nothing to do with helmet wearing.

    The only effect of helmet propaganda is to deter some people from cycling. Cycling confers huge health benefits, with regular cyclists living longer and being fitter and healthier than the general population. Because the people deterred lose those benefits and there is no safety improvement, the overall effect of helmet propaganda and laws is huge and completely negative. In the middle of an obesity epidemic which will shorten millions of lives and is mostly caused by a failure to exercise, helmet propaganda is literally insane.

    You might like to check out a few facts at cyclehelmets.org

  • http://twitter.com/BicycleSPACE BicycleSPACE

    The key to making it safer for the increasing ranks of cyclists is not to suggest that they wear helmets so when they get hit by drivers they might survive. The key is to provide a safe bicycle transportation infrastructure where cyclists are protected from careless drivers by physical barriers.

    • BigDaddy65

      I love to hear such constructive and thoughtful input. Helmets should be mandatory but distracted drivers are a much more serious worry on the roads today…for all of us. Cyclists, pedestrians and fellow drivers should all care about this discussion.

      • Brimstone

        Most bike injuries don’t involve cars. Helmets should not be mandatory but health insurance should be. Speaking of distractions bikers need to get those damn earbuds out of their ears.

        • BigDaddy65

          While ‘most’ bike injuries may or may not involve cars, the vast majority of fatalities certainly do.

  • Rob

    The author’s helmet may have protected him from worse injuries, as he fervently believes. However, it’s clear that the majority of “my helmet saved me” stories must be false, since fatalities and serious injuries of cyclists have fallen less quickly than those of pedestrians in the past 20 years.

    The implication that bicycling is terribly dangerous is just wrong. John Pucher has data in several of his papers showing (inadvertently, perhaps) that bicycling in America is several times safer than walking, per mile traveled. The count of bicyclist ER visits is higher than that of the sports listed simply because there are so many bicyclists; per participant, cycling is safer than many of those sports. And if we are to ignore rates and focus on simple counts of injuries or fatalities, then pedestrians (over 4000 deaths per year, mostly from brain injuries) and motorists (well over 30,000 fatalities per year, despite air bags and seat belts) should all be buying helmets and tightening their chin straps.

    And the “85%” protection claim is now known to be ludicrously wrong, in the same league as a “Lose up to 30 pounds per week!” claim for a diet pill. It dates from only one 1989 paper based on a study rife with errors (beginning with self-selection of subjects) and has never been corroborated in the 20+ years since it appeared. For details on its failings, see http://www.cyclehelmets.org/1131.html

    In fact, http://www.cyclehelmets.org should be consulted whenever helmet promotion messages are encountered. There’s value in hearing both sides of a story.

    • SamanthaJess

      Your argument is full of fallacies. First of all, what and how is “it” clear? You cannot make a conclusion like that without looking at other factors (such as the volume increased safety measures for vehicles or improved pedestrian walkways). Secondly, a “count of injuries or fatalities” is not a reasonable statistic to be quoting. Per capita, the number of pedestrians and motorists can not reasonably be compared to the number of cyclists. Furthermore, comparing cyclists (as a sport) to other sports (which you have not, by the way) is not reasonable either. I would not try and compare football injuries to those of a skiier – the sports are completely different, require different skills and have different risks and necessary safety precautions. But I would still wear a helmet skiing.

      I come from “a biking family” as I call it. My dad had those
      kiddy-attachments before they were ubiquitous, he rides antique bikes
      and would come into my elementary school class to teach bike safety. The
      rule in my house is “if you ride your bike without a helmet, you lose
      your bike for a year. No questions asked.” This is a rule that I have
      carried into adulthood – just ask my husband. It may be for this reason but I do not understand why anyone would get on a bike without a helmet.

      I equate the helmet to the seat belt. The seat belt, should you be involved in an accident (which I hope you never are), is there to provide an increased level of safety and to reduce the risk of overall injury. I hope that you buckle your seat belt every time you get in the car just in case. The helmet does the same thing. My brother, an avid cyclist, was in a bike accident recently. If he wasn’t wearing a helmet, the 3 inch dent in his helmet would likely have been in his head.

      Take responsibility for your own safety before you begin blaming other people and factors: wear a helmet, make yourself visible and follow the rules of the road.

  • Sara

    Great piece–thanks, David. This is going to help a lot of people.

  • http://s134.photobucket.com/albums/q119/hotbike/ James Donohue

    There are some “handlebar mounted” rear-view mirrors that are good. They have a convex mirror which gives a wide field of view, and they mount to the *END* of the handlebar, so you can see around yourself. These style mirrors have only been around since the mid 1990′s. They are also mounted with a Velcro strap, so they can be removed and reinstalled quickly, if it makes the bike too wide to fit through a door .

    I understand that glasses-mounted and helmet mounted mirrors are very popular, but as I am “legally blind” in my left eye, I can NOT focus with them.

    ——-
    As for running red lights, if you are in a situation where you can’t stop, try to make a right-on-red, and stop in the shoulder of the road on your right.

    BTW- With most bikes, there is no way to “sit at a light when there are no cars coming”… The rider is more or less “Impaled” by his arse on the bike seat. Unless the Bike is a Lowrider, the seat is too high to put ones feet down, and a Bicycle is very, very difficult to balance on when the Bike is stopped.

    • Cat

      A cyclist is not “impaled” nor is one’s butt actually attached to the seat. I can understand not wanting to put your foot down if you don’t really have to, but if you are unable to stand over your top tube (not seat, the tube in front of it) then your bike is not suitable for riding on streets where you are required to stop for red lights and stop signs. Starting and stopping are normal parts of riding a bicycle and everyone who wants to cycle in the company of pedestrians or other vehicles must be comfortable doing so. When I first got a bike with toe clips, I practiced stopping and starting safely before riding in busy areas. Following the rules is part of sharing the road and what makes it appropriate for cyclists to have the same rights as other vehicles.

      • http://s134.photobucket.com/albums/q119/hotbike/ James Donohue

        I used to be able to do a good track-stand, 25 years ago, but I’m getting too old for that now. I ride a Ladies Bike, and I also have a semi-recumbent “Lowrider”. Cat, laws are meant to protect people, and the red-lights, believe it or not, are to protect Cyclists from the speeding cars.
        There are old people who use a Bicycle as a mobility aid, who can’t walk that well, let’s not forget them. There also are those young folks who will demonstrate that a Bicycle is faster than a car in downtown traffic. I hear a lot of complaints, about cyclists running red lights , but the point of the demonstration is that If everyone rode a bicycle, the world would be a better place. The cyclists who run red lights actually look both ways before crossing the street, they do it at their own risk, and there are exceptions, such as lights that are activated by sensors in the pavement, which do NOT detect a bicycle or motorcycle.

        What If I am going through a T intersection: I am riding on the right hand shoulder, and the side street is on the LEFT side of the road: At what point does a car coming out of the side street cross my path? It’s a null question, the car does NOT cross my path. It should be plainly an exception in the law books, if it is not one already.

        Right-on-Red is legal here in New York, I don’t know if it is legal in 28 other states. But that means any vehicle can go right on red, not just bikes. What it boils down to is whether the cyclist can use a road-shoulder, with the fog line acting as a demarcation, which would prevent a car from striking the Bicyclist.

        Anyway, I want to see it on Video. Verbal descriptions of alleged infractions can sound scarier than what actually happened . Everyone should carry a video camera and make videos of the alleged perpetrators.

        And I’m sorry, BUT, if I have to Brake suddenly, and I don’t have time to Down-Shift, I will have to become a Pedestrian and walk the bike out of the way, out of the intersection, via the crosswalk (if there is a crosswalk) , on account the Bike will NOT start to move from a stop in High Gear. Okay?

  • SamanthaJess

    Tip for cyclists: follow the rules of the road! You are a vehicle. This means you should stop at stop signs and red lights, You should not weave from sidewalk to street as you see fit. You should not ride the wrong way down a one-way road. Following the rules of the road may mean you have to sit at a light when there are no cars coming (just like the other cars next to you), but it also means that you are not opening yourself up to unnecessarily unsafe conditions such as a car (who has a green light) speeding through an intersection that you are attempting to cross through by running a red light.

    For drivers: bicycles are vehicles, they have a right to be on the road. Realize that these bicycles and their riders are extremely exposed and vulnerable but understand that they have a right to share the road.

    • BigDaddy65

      Well said Samantha, cars and bikes can easily coexist if both follow the rules of the road, and always err to the conservative side when the dynamics are not clear. I also implore drivers to put down their phones and never text while driving. After all let’s be honest, distracted bikers have never killed anyone in a car.