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Bike SafetyBicycling is more popular than ever and Mill Valley has miles of bike trails and lanes that attract both residents and tourists. With increasing numbers of cyclists on our busy streets and new bicyclists abandoning their training wheels, simple safety rules are necessary to stay safe and injury free.

From equipment safety checklists to the rules of the road, the following bicycle safety tools teach new riders how to stay safe on their bike and remind older riders that safety is a number one priority. 

National Injury Statistics

  • Every six hours a bicyclist is fatally injured
  • Forty-nine percent of all bicyclist deaths occur to children age 16 or younger
  • Each year, nearly one million children are treated for bicycle-related injuries in hospital emergency rooms
  • One in seven children suffers head injuries in bicycle-related accidents 
  • Head injuries cause three out of four serious injuries and deaths that occur from bicycle accidents
  • Two-thirds of all bicycle accidents are not with an automobile
  • About ninety-five percent of all cycling fatalities involve an automobile
  • Only about ten percent of bike crashes are reported

Tips for Safe Riding

Always wear a helmet. Bicycle helmets can reduce head injuries by 85 percent. Select a helmet that fits snugly and sits flat atop the head. For children, use the extra padding that comes with the helmet to ensure a proper fit. Wear a helmet that complies with the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) or the Snell Memorial Foundation (SNELL). Children under age 18 are required by law to wear a helmet.

Learn rules of the road. Bicycles are considered vehicles and must obey the same rules as motorists. Learn and follow all traffic signs, laws and rules. Always signal your turns and stop at all red lights and stop signs. Use bicycle lanes and routes as well as off-road paths whenever possible.

See and be seen. Wear clothes that make you more visible, such as neon, florescent, or other bright colors when riding a bike. If riding at night, you must have a headlight. Reflectors on the front and back of the bike and reflective strips on clothing are good ideas. Always assume that you will NOT be seen by drivers.

Go with the flow of traffic. Always ride on the right side in a straight predictable path. Always ride single file if in a group. Studies show that the most common factor in bicycle accidents is bicyclists riding on the wrong side of the street. The major reason for these accidents is that when vehicles are turning at intersections or entering traffic, drivers are looking to the left and may not see a bicyclist approaching from the right.

Check for traffic. Always be aware of the traffic around you. Over 70 percent of car-bicycle crashes occur at driveways or other intersections. Before you enter a street or intersection, check for traffic and look left-right-left. Walk your bike into the street to begin your ride and across busy streets at corners and crosswalks. If already in the street, always look behind you for a break in traffic, then signal before going left or right, and watch for turning traffic.

Stay alert. Watch out for obstacles in your path, such as potholes, sewer gratings, cracks, railroad tracks, loose gravel, and broken glass. Before going around any object, scan ahead, and behind you for a gap in traffic. Plan your move and then signal your intentions. Don't ride too close to parked cars, as the driver may suddenly open the door in your path or pull out suddenly.

Fix it. Make sure your bicycle is adjusted properly and in good working order: the wheels should be straight and secure with no cuts and/or cracks and no loose or broken spokes; the handlebars should be firmly in place and turn easily; the chain should be oiled and tight. If your bike is correctly adjusted to fit you, you should be able to rest your feet on the ground while sitting in the seat and be able to stand over the top tube.

Stop it. Always check your brakes before riding. Control your speed by using your brakes. If your bicycle has hand brakes, apply the rear brake slightly before the front brake. If you cannot stop quickly, adjust your brakes. When your hand brake levers are fully applied, they should not touch the handlebars. Each brake shoe pad should wear evenly and never be separated more than one eighth inch from the rim. Ride slowly in wet, slippery weather, and remember to apply your brakes earlier since it takes more distance to stop.

Don't flip your bike. Wheels should be securely fastened. Check wheels before every ride, after every fall, or after transporting your bicycle to be sure that they are fastened and secure. If your bicycle has quick-release wheels, make sure they are firmly closed at all times. Use the safety retainer if there is one. Make sure that tires are properly inflated.

Bicycle Theft Statistics

  • A bike is stolen every 1.2 minutes in the United States
  • More than 1 million bikes are stolen annually
  • The average value of stolen bicycles is $393 
  • This crime costs Americans between $800 and $1 billion annually (Note: Since many bike thefts go unreported, the estimated dollar loss is considered conservative.)

Tips for Preventing Bicycle Theft

CARRY A LOCK AND USE IT. Most stolen bikes were not locked. Use a U-lock, securing both wheels and the frame to a stationary object such as a post, fence, tree or bike rack. Or, use a case hardened 3/8" chain at least 36" long, and a good combination or laminated key lock.

At home, keep your bicycle in a room, basement or locked garage.

Never leave your bike unattended or unlocked in a yard or driveway.

Record the serial number of your bicycle and keep it with the sales receipt, description and photograph of the bike.

If your bicycle doesn't have a serial number, engrave your bike with an identification number of your own choosing.

If your bike is stolen, call the police and a report will be taken. The bike's serial number will be entered into the Automated Property System (APS). This system will match the stolen/lost bike to its owner if the bike is recovered within California. 

Tips for Parents

Teach your children the rules of the road for their protection. Responsible bicyclists are involved in fewer accidents.

Children also learn by example, so please wear your helmet. This is the single most important predictor of whether a child will wear a helmet.

One of the most common mistakes people make when buying kids' bikes is getting a bicycle that's too large, so the child can "grow into" it. This might sound like a good idea, but it's not. A child will have a hard time controlling a bike that's too large, and won't feel confident as a result. A properly sized bike will be safer because it will be easier to control and a lot more fun. To properly size a child's bike, you are looking for one to two inches of crotch clearance over the top tube. Give at least two inches of room if the bike is going to be ridden over rugged terrain, as you would with a mountain or BMX bike.

Take action for bicycle safety. Parents, schools, and young people can work together to develop bicycle safety education programs and bicycle rodeos. Several Mill Valley schools (Edna Maguire, Old Mill and Tam Valley) have the Safe Routes to Schools program that promotes health, fitness, traffic relief, and environmental awareness. Safe Routes to Schools provides in-class lessons and bicycle rodeos that include a safety check for bicycles and helmets, testing of rider skills, and contests such as a bicycle obstacle course. The organization also assists communities in identifying safe routes to schools. 

Further Information

California State Automobile Association's "Otto the Auto"
Safe Routes to School
Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute
Share the Road
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

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Last updated: 12/10/2009 9:12:46 AM