As summer approaches, many may feel the urge to dust off that bicycle on the rack in the garage and take it for a spin. While biking can be both fun and healthy, it’s important to remember to stay aware and stay safe.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 857 bicyclists were killed as a result of traffic collisions in 2018; and despite 70 to 80 percent of all fatal bicycle crashes involving head injuries, less than one-fifth of cyclists wear a helmet, the U.S. Department of Transportation reported.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that fatal and non-fatal crash-related injuries resulted in lifetime medical costs and productivity losses of $10 billion.
While there is no bicycle helmet law for the state of Missouri, some municipalities require riders under a certain age to be equipped with one. To minimize brain injuries, the NHTSA and CDC strongly urge all bicyclists to wear a helmet before pushing the pedals.
Oscar Powers, Maneuver Support Center of Excellence safety director, said the potential for severe cycling accidents is directly related to whether a rider is wearing a helmet.
“There’s a high likelihood that somebody’s not going to see you, or there’s debris in the road, and your center of gravity is high, so it’s going to cause a crash,” he said. “And the severity of that crash without a helmet is statistically going to go up immensely because of how you’re positioned when you’re cycling.”
And although the qualifications for operating a bike are far different from driving a car, according to federal law, any bicycle on a roadway is treated with the same rights and responsibilities as motorized vehicles.
Powers said bicyclists can also be put in financially precarious situations if they are ruled at fault in an accident.
“I’ve known several people that have been significantly injured while on active duty and also retirees while bicycling, and they were ruled at fault,” he said. “That has significant repercussions.”
This also means that bicyclists must obey all laws that apply to other motor vehicle operators, too; always remember to ride on the right side of the road, going the same direction as other vehicles.
Powers said all bicyclists should always practice proper turning signals to avoid unnecessary collisions.
“You might be the best driver in the world, but you have to worry about everybody else around you,” he said. “And them having knowledge about what you’re about to do cannot be understated.”
The NHTSA also reminds riders to make themselves easily seen by wearing bright colors or reflective clothing.
According to Army Regulation 385-10, when bicycling on Department of Defense installation roadways during hours of darkness or reduced visibility, bicycles must be equipped with operable head and taillights, and bicyclists must wear reflective upper outer garments.
Powers urged all riders to remain in compliance with such regulations. Otherwise, he said, they could face negative consequences.
“If you’re a service member, you’re putting your benefits at jeopardy,” he said.
Although Missouri has many trails specifically meant for bicycles, public health officials urge cyclists to always remain vigilant when behind the handlebars; look out for potholes, runoffs, ravines, gravel patches and other obstacles that may cause traction to give out.
If you are unsure of the ease and safety of using a bicycle in your community, refer to the NHTSA’s Bikeability Checklist at https://www.nhtsa.gov/sites/nhtsa.dot.gov/files/bikabilitychecklist1.pdf.
For more information on bicycle helmet laws, visit https://www.helmets.org/.