December 12, 2014

Cars and Cyclists: Safety Tips for Both Sides in Oklahoma City

Oklahoma City Bicycling Safety Tips

Bicycling is becoming more and more popular in Oklahoma City. The city government recently approved an eight mile bike path running from the Oklahoma River to Lake Hefner, a project that will cost more than $18 million. And this is only one of the many bike trails and bike lanes springing up around town. However, the growth of cycling in the city also means that drivers and cyclists will be sharing the road more often, and that means they’ll need to know how to interact safely.

Since so many of the vehicles on OKC’s streets come from The KEY, we thought it was only natural for us to look at how drivers and cyclists can keep themselves – and each other – safe on the streets. Read on to see our safe driving tips and advice.

bicycle okc

For Drivers

Driving around cyclists can be stressful. But even if you’re very careful around cyclists every time you see them, most car-and-bike accidents happen when you don’t notice the biker. Drivers should follow a few simple rules and guidelines to ensure they’re being as safe and courteous as possible.

Treat Bikes Like Cars

The single biggest way to stay safe around cyclists on the street is to treat them like cars or motorcycles. Don’t think of cyclists as pedestrians or objects in your way. Legally, cyclists are vehicles: according to Oklahoma state law, “Every person riding a bicycle upon a roadway shall be granted all the rights and shall be subject to all the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle by the laws of this State…”. In other words, bicycles have every bit as much “right to the road” as cars and trucks. That means they should get the same respect as well.

Be Careful When Turning

Intersections are by far the most common scene of accidents between cyclists and motorists. Drivers will often turn quickly or without using signals, and cyclists can sometimes assume a driver has seen them when they really haven’t. If you’re driving a car in a popular area for bicyclists, you should be very aware of your surroundings when turning. If you’re making a right turn, make sure to always check your mirrors to ensure you aren’t cutting off a cyclist coming up behind you. And if you’re turning left, don’t try to “beat the cyclist” across the oncoming lane. Bikes can easily move just as fast as cars in city traffic, and it won’t cost you anything to wait another moment for them to be out of your way.

Pass with Care

Another major source of stress between cyclists and drivers is the pass. Many drivers who come up behind cyclists pass too close, too fast, or in dangerous places like curves or areas with a small shoulder. As a driver, the best thing you can do to keep yourself and the cyclist safe is to slow down and wait to pass at a safe and appropriate time. You should try to leave at least three feet of space between your car and the cyclist – any closer and you risk clipping them with your mirror or knocking them over with the draft from your car.

Respect the Bicycle Lane

If you’re driving along a road with a bicycle lane, that doesn’t give you free license to throw all the other tips out the window. You should still try to leave as much space as possible between yourself and any bikers you pass, and you also need to be aware of any debris or parked vehicles in the bike lane that might cause bikers to swerve into the road. In the end, even when cyclists have their own lanes, you still need to be aware of them and treat them with respect.

For Cyclists

Anyone who cycles on the road knows how harrowing it can be. That said, there are ways to ease your experience and improve your interactions with cars and trucks.

Follow the Rules of the Road

The main thing that cyclists want from drivers is respect and equal treatment. Nobody wants to be blown off the road or cut off at an intersection – but that also means you, as a cyclist, need to respect the rules that cars follow as well. It helps to think of yourself not as a “go anywhere, do anything” bicycle, but just as a regular vehicle on the road. You’ll still have to ride defensively and treat cars with respect and caution, but you’ll also be more in-tune with the flow of traffic and better able to follow the traffic laws. Just think – if you wouldn’t run this traffic light or cut this corner in a car, why do it on your bike?

Signal Your Intentions

Bikes are smaller and nimbler than cars, and that can make it difficult for drivers to know what you’re going to do next. If you want to stay safe, you should learn to signal your next move to drivers so they can anticipate what you want to do. For instance, if you’re planning on turning across traffic or need to take the lane to avoid an obstruction, signal by holding your hand or arm out before starting your move. If you’re slowing down, hold your hand down or back before you start to brake. Some dedicated cyclists even install powered turn signals and brake lights to make their moves as clear as possible.

Be Aware

Unlike drivers in cars, it can be tough for cyclists to know what’s going on behind or beside them. Many cyclists don’t have mirrors, and it can be dangerous to turn around on a bike to look behind. Because of that, it’s more important that you use your other senses to fill the gap. Listen for cars behind or alongside you, and learn how to head-check safely so you can look around. Never listen to music or talk on the phone when you’re riding on the road (dedicated bike paths are fine).

Let Drivers Know when they Do Well

It’s easy to express your frustration with drivers that cut you off or drive poorly, but you should also try to be expressive towards good drivers. Positive reinforcement will help drivers know what you – and other cyclists – appreciate. Give a friendly wave or a “thank you” to drivers who give you enough space or who hang back when you need to take the lane. Also, if a driver does do something wrong, don’t immediately get angry. If you get a chance (like at an intersection or stop sign) try to tell them calmly and nicely what they could do next time to make your ride better. In the end, drivers and cyclists are on the road together. We all need to learn to be nice and share.