Tips to stay safe when cycling (or around cyclists)
12 June, 2017
As a cyclist, being surrounded by much bigger and much more powerful vehicles such as cars and lorries can be daunting. In 2015 more than 3,300 cyclists were killed or seriously injured in Britain, with 10% of cycling fatalities in the past 5 years involving HGVs. It is therefore important to keep safe and remain vigilant on the roads, so we’ve put together some tips to help.
Whilst it’s not nice to think about, as a cyclist you are often invisible to other road users, so it’s important to realise your vulnerability and act accordingly. Make sure that you keep within view of cars wherever possible, especially at junctions and traffic lights, and avoid the blind spots of vehicles. You can do this by using any advanced stop lines that are in place. These are a designated space for cyclists in front of cars at traffic lights. However, if there is not an advanced stop line then make sure you do not cross the stop line as this will incur a fixed penalty notice fine (typically around £50) for running a red light. Alternatively, you can avoid drivers’ blind spots at junctions by stopping directly behind them rather than to the side, so that they can see you in their rear view mirror.
You can also make yourself more visible by wearing bright clothing, even during the day. Even better would be to wear reflective clothing and have a headlight and/or flashing lights on your bike to make sure you’re as visible as possible. However, there are some laws surrounding cycling lights. Namely, they need to be working properly and cleaned if you are riding after sunset, even if it’s not yet dark. You must also have a red light at the rear and a white light at the front, they must be fixed to your bike and they must not be obscured (for instance by a saddle bag). For a full list of requirements visit Cycling UK. Another way to keep visible is to wear reflective badges, or have them on your bike. You can also attach a mirror to your bike to ensure that you can see vehicles around you even if they haven’t noticed you.
However, even when you are glowing in reflective gear, there are still chances of an accident. So whilst it is important to stay visible, it is also important to be protected. The most recommended piece of protection is of course a helmet to protect you from serious head injuries. It is also important to have other protective gear such as elbow and knee pads (or even knee guards which protect your shins too), gloves to ensure your grip, and body armour (especially if you are a mountain biker). Whilst it may seem costly to get kitted up, it’s not as costly as losing your life because you were unprotected in an accident.
Maintain your bike
Maintaining your bike will not only keep you safe, but also within the law, so it is important to keep up with any repairs that need doing. This involves things such as keeping your lights clear, as mentioned above, but also things such as handlebars, chains, tyres and brakes. If your brakes are not efficient then you are breaking the law. Both brakes must be in full working order to keep you within the law. There are a number of retailers and independent bike sellers who offer bike servicing, which is recommended over attempting to fix the bike yourself in case you cause more damage.
Ride the right way
A further way to keep safe is to make sure that you are not riding against the traffic. Whilst this is recommended for pedestrians and runners, and may seem like the logical options as you are able to see what’s coming toward you, it is actually much more dangerous as a cyclist for a variety of reasons. For example, drivers will not be expecting you to come from that direction when they pull out of junctions or driveways, so they are more likely to hit you. Additionally, cars will be passing you at a much higher speed, rather than being able to accommodate their speed if they pass you from behind. Plus, it makes it almost impossible to turn left, so you’re only inconveniencing yourself by doing it.
If you can, take up the whole lane rather than hugging the curb. This stops cars from passing too closely, especially on narrower roads and lanes. It also stops the risk of people opening their car door and hitting you. Plus, it makes you more visible as a whole. However, if you are blocking traffic by doing this then either find a quieter route, or pull over and let vehicles pass, especially wider vehicles, as the highway code requires you to do so. Furthermore, keep more to the right on roads with lots of side streets, parked cars or driveways to avoid any potential collisions (or car doors) and keep yourself visible.
If you’re commuting in a busy city in can be hard to find quiet streets to cycle down. However, where possible you should avoid busy streets as a cyclist. It is also important to keep aware at all times. Try to avoid listening to music or using your phone so you can be aware of cars at all times, even when they aren’t aware of you. Additionally, make sure to remember to signal so that drivers know what you are doing and do not try to overtaking as you are about to turn right, for instance.
The role of drivers
Of course, it’s not all on cyclists to take responsibility. Our recent survey found that many believe drivers to be the main issue for cyclists. Perhaps, therefore, drivers should also be doing more to ensure the safety of cyclists. For instance, many whom we polled admitted that they do not give cyclists enough space when overtaking. It is therefore pertinent to make sure you do this, and if there isn’t enough space to overtake then hold back until there is. Additionally, as a driver you should keep an eye out for cyclists in their mirrors, especially when turning as they may end up being hit if you do not check regularly and correctly. In line with this, you should also make sure to indicate correctly when turning so that cyclists can be aware of your intentions.
By keeping an eye on your surroundings you can also help ensure the safety of cyclists, for example by making sure you are clear of cyclists when opening your car door, or leaving enough space for them to access the advanced stop lines at traffic lights. Furthermore, it is also important when driving at night to not only keep an eye out for cyclists, but also to dip your deadlights when approaching them so that they are not blinded, which may lead to an accident.
Do you want to find out what respondents to our survey felt about cycling safety? Visit our results article for more information, plus our thoughts on what this means for both drivers and cyclists.