We’ve all seen news stories of crashes involving bicyclists, perhaps accompanied by pictures of mangled bicycles in the middle of the road. Such imagery can sear itself into our memories and can turn off many people from biking. But the data tells us that the health benefits that accrue from regular cycling vastly outweigh any risks involved. In addition, crashes probably aren’t as common as you think and there are many things you can do to prevent those crashes from happening.

When one examines the causes of the most common crashes between cyclists and motorists, and we adjust our behavior in light of this info, it results in more optimistic, confident and safe riding.

Whos at Fault

On the right side of this chart in green are the common mistakes cyclists make that contribute to collisions with cars. If we eliminate these mistakes from our repertoire, our safety skyrockets on the road! By being on the lookout for and on guard against the common motorist mistakes in blue on the left side of this chart, even more safety results. Let’s take a dive into this data and what we can learn.

As you can see, the most dangerous thing you can do on your bike that could lead to a crash with a car is riding against traffic on the left side of the street. Many kids hear through the grapevine that it’s safer to ride against traffic on the left, but this isn’t true! It’s illegal and very dangerous. Cyclists need to ride on the right and get accustomed to traffic coming up behind them on their left.

The next most common mistake cyclists make is taking a left turn from the right side of the road. This unpredictability results in many crashes. To make a left turn, a cyclist must make their way into proper position before the turn: a left turn or center turn lane, or near the yellow center line when there are no dedicated turn lanes.

The most common motorist mistakes are right hooks and left crosses: turning across a cyclist’s path when the cyclist is proceeding straight through an intersection. To guard against these, never proceed straight through an intersection while hugging the right curb. Move out a bit where you are more clearly visible. It also helps if you “take the lane” - riding in the center of the rightmost lane that allows you to proceed straight. This deters unsafe passing. You can return to the right when you’re past the intersection. Maintain constant awareness and watch for turning vehicles at intersections. In the event of an imminent right hook or left cross, know how to pull off a quick stop or instant turn maneuver. These take a lot of practice but are excellent skills to develop.

Other tips to avoid these common crashes:

  • Yield to traffic when coming out a driveway, alley or parking lot. The same goes for going from a residential street to a more busy street: Don’t proceed until the way is clear.
  • When riding by parked cars, avoid the door zone. Give yourself 3-5 feet out from the car. Even if a driver or passenger opens their door out into traffic without looking (which is illegal by the way), you won’t be hit.
  • Ride straight and predictably. Don’t weave your way in and out of parked cars. Maintain a straight line for as much of your time as you can. If there’s an obstruction in the bike lane or shoulder (parked car, pothole, etc), make your way out well ahead of time. Don’t veer out into traffic when approaching the obstacle.
  • Follow all signs, signals and markings.

It’s also important to note that crash rates decrease with rider experience and by taking opportunities to ride in adverse conditions (at night, in the rain, etc). There’s no substitute for getting out and riding - developing those maneuvering skills, attaining better awareness, etc. As the miles and years go by, your safety increases.