Bicycle safety begins with distracted driving reform. It’s critical to the safety of bicyclists and every other road user. Motorists and bicyclists working collectively can easily eliminate the epidemic use of hand-held electronic devices while driving. More then 80 percent of bicyclists are motorists. So, finding common ground to create a safer road environment for everyone isn’t that difficult. We just need to create a national dialogue focused on the needs of every road user. And, for bicyclists, that dialogue needs to include skills education and the visibility of bicyclists.
We’ve worked with the legislative staff of Congressman Earl Blumenauer, the Founder and Co-chair of the Congressional Bike Caucus, and Congressman Jared Polis’s office to address those issues. We sent a proposal to Congress to create a bill that would put Bicycle Safety into the USDOT §405 National Priority Safety Program.
That program would provide the States with funding and incentives to:
- Implement a national awareness campaign for motorists and bicyclists.
- Include critical bicycle safety issues in driver education programs, defensive driving courses, and particularly on licensing examinations for motorists.
- Make bicycle skills training available to all children and interested adults.
- Improve the conspicuousness of bicyclists with modern bicycle lighting laws with a consistent set of regulations.
- Implement a methodology to accurately collect and analyze national car/bike crash data.
Every year 500,000 people are treated in emergency rooms for injuries sustained from falling off a bicycle. About 100,000 are children under the age of sixteen. The average cost of a trip to the emergency room is $2,100.00. The cost of treating people who fall off a bicycle now exceeds one billion dollars annually. More than 75% of the causes of those falls can be eliminated through educational programs.
A 50% reduction in falls would keep 250,000 people a year out of the hospital. That’s 250,000 people a year who would most likely still be riding and encouraging others to ride. It would also reduce the cost of those injuries by half a billion dollars.
Education is paramount to building the bicycle industry. The 7% of the population that are considered ‘enthused & confident’ about riding have responded well to infrastructure changes. The 60% of the population that are characterized as ‘interested but concerned’ are not riding. They have not responded well to the advent of bike lanes. Building confidence and empowering new bicyclists through awareness and educational programs must be the primary objective to getting more people safely on bikes.
Hypothetically, if we had the half a billion dollars saved by people not falling off their bikes we could build, at $1 million per mile, 500 miles of protected bike lanes. Or, at $40 for a basic skills class, we could empower 12.5 million new bicyclists with the confidence and enthusiasm to ride anywhere.
Skills education is a functional, proven methodology for reducing crashes, injuries, fatalities and their associated costs. It is critical for building the bicycle industry. It needs to be taught in every bicycle retail store in the country. And, ultimately, in every school.
The Visibility of Bicyclists
Bicycle safety is dependent on being seen and recognized as a bicyclist at the greatest distance possible. A multitude of studies over the last forty years has established that detection and recognition of bicyclists is essential to reducing crashes and saving lives. We need a national bicycle lighting standard to keep bicyclists safer.
Current State Bicycle Lighting Laws:
- 5 States require nothing more than a red reflector.
- 2 States require a red or amber light.
- 15 States require a red light or reflector.
- 25 States require a red reflector and a red light.
A red reflector is a fail-safe alternative to a single battery-operated light. But more lighting should be required and that requirement needs to be standardized across the country. In most states, the cities, counties, and districts can set their own lighting statutes. So, a red light may be required in one place and a red flashing light will be illegal across the street in a different municipality.
Setting a national bicycle lighting standard was addressed in our Congressional Proposal. And, it included allowing bicyclists to use blue lights on the sides and rear of their bike in conjunction with standard reflectors. The restricted use of a blue light on the rear of a bike is allowed in 33 States and the District of Columbia.
Allowing the use of a blue light on the rear and the sides of a bicycle is a simple, effective and inexpensive methodology to ensure that bicyclists are significantly more visible to motorists at the greatest distances possible. It is a viable tool in eliminating rear end bicycling fatalities.