Staying safe aboard bikes

by Tom Coonelly
For the Sequim Gazette

The death of 27-year-old Belgian cyclist Wouter Weyandt in the Giro de Italia bike race ought to remind us all to exercise caution while out on our bikes. True, we are not traveling at 50 mph on a twisty downhill, but there are opportunities for mayhem in our daily rides. A Seattle woman was killed on May 24 by an SUV while riding with a friend on a two-lane road near Waitsburg. The women were riding single file on the shoulder.


According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2 percent of all highway fatalities are cyclists but cyclists account for only 1 percent of all trips. In 2009, 630 cyclists were killed in traffic accidents and another 51,000 were injured.


Traffic laws apply when we drive a car and when we ride a bicycle. Most drivers do not fully understand these laws and many of those who do understand choose to ignore them. Locally, U.S. Highway 101 is particularly risky both because of the speed of the vehicles and the inattentiveness of drivers. But the local roads may be as risky.


Crosswalks are especially dangerous as the rules are not well understood and often are ignored. Motorists are required to yield to people in the crosswalk, including cyclists. Drivers from one direction may stop but the driver coming from the opposite direction may not. Inattentiveness on the part of motorists (use of cell phones for example), cyclists and pedestrians (ear buds) increase the risk. Awareness of your surroundings is one of the best safe riding techniques you can practice.

Know the laws

Washington State law acknowledges that bicycles are vehicles and have some of the same rights as automobiles.


• Everyone riding a bicycle on a roadway shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle.


• Hand signals are required of persons operating bicycles.


• Ride as near to the right side as is safe except on a one way street, where you may ride on the left side.

• You may “take the lane” when preparing to make or while making turning movements or while overtaking and passing another bicycle or vehicle proceeding in the same direction.


• Use the shoulder.


• Ride no more than two abreast.


• Every bicycle must have a lamp on the front and a red reflector on the rear when ridden after dark.



We read about the minimum three-foot distance a motorist should leave when passing a cyclist as well as the advice to “take the lane” when the shoulder is deemed dangerous to us. While often useful, this advice ignores the reality that the driver of even the smallest automobile has about a one-ton advantage over a cyclist.



Anything that causes confusion on the part of motorists and cyclists increases risk. Unpredictable actions by drivers and cyclists are part of the problem. Adding to the confusion is the appearance of the new miniature signs the City of Sequim and Clallam County have placed at various places where the trail and public roads intersect. The added signs are confusing to both cyclists and motorists and create a dangerous situation for cyclists.


There are alternatives: “Caution: Cyclists,” “Yield to Traffic,” “Yield to Cyclists,” “Cyclists on the Roadway” — all of which would be less confusing and far less dangerous to us all.


Limit the dangers: on the trail
We have an exceptional resource available to us in the form of the Olympic Discovery Trail. Of course the trail does not exist solely for the use of cyclists. Hikers, equestrians, birders and others share the trail.
We can limit our risk and enjoy cycling safely with common courtesy on dedicated trails.
• Share the space — no user has any more right to the space on the trail than any other user.
• Announce your presence and intentions.
• Slow down when passing hikers or other trail users.
• Horses are easily spooked. Slow down.
• Be aware of other users: Offer assistance when needed.
• Try greeting those you encounter on the trail — it always will get a positive response.

• And always think: Safety First.


Do’s and do nots: on the road
The following guidelines will help you ride more safely on the road.
• Always ride in control.
• Always wear a helmet: Bicycle helmets are 85 percent to 88 percent effective in mitigating head/brain injuries and are the most effective way to reduce head injuries and fatalities from bicycle crashes (NHTSA).
• Announce your presence when approaching others on the road.
• Signal your intention when passing pedestrians and other cyclists.
• Do not ride on sidewalks (this is legal in some cities like Seattle but not in Sequim or Port Angeles).
• Never insist on the right of way (people who do so are known as “victims”).
• Always yield to the larger vehicle (37 percent of all bicycle crashes are caused by failure to yield on the part of a bicycle or an automobile (Network of Employers for Traffic Safety).
• Always ride with traffic. You are safer when drivers see you where they expect to see you (there are few exceptions to this guideline).
• Assume the other person will not see you or will not yield if they do.
• Assume the other person believes they have the right of way and will act on this belief.
• Assume the other person does not understand the rules concerning crosswalks and will not stop. Look both ways.
• Be aware of your surroundings (ditch the ear buds).

• Safety (yours) first. Err on the side of caution. offers an additional suggestion: “Ride as if you were invisible” i.e., “… ride in such a way that motorists won’t hit you even if they don’t see you.”


Here’s your homework assignment. Complete the NHTSA’s Bikeability Checklist (

injury/pedbimot/bike/Bikeability/checklist.htm) and see how our community shapes up. You may be surprised by what you find. Ride safe!


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