Is Biking Safety Being Taken Seriously?

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Image result for dutch reach methodIt sometimes feels like open season for cyclists when riding on the roads in Waterloo Region. In fact, Statistics Canada reported that between 1994 and 2012 over 1400 deaths were recorded in Canada – that’s almost 75 deaths a year. The number of people with serious injuries due to bike accidents is well over 7500 every year. This is about the same number of deaths per population as the Netherlands sees, however the percentage of people commuting by bike in Canada is far lower than in the Netherlands.

Why are our cycling death rates so high? Experts think that there are many reasons for this. One is that unless you live in an urban area cycling isn’t a viable option for commuting to work, or even for safe recreational riding. Ensuring safety on rural roads and the vast stretches of Canadian highways is extremely difficult. The speed differential between cars/trucks and cycles is enormous. This means the draft of the vehicles alone can cause a cyclist to be thrown under the trucks or thrown off balance. Shoulders on roadways are narrow or non-existent and are often covered in gravel making them unsafe.

In urban areas there are few dedicated cycling lanes and they are often parked in with cars and delivery vehicles. Intersections and laneways are particularly dangerous for cyclists (and pedestrians). Accidents in controlled intersections often occur when either the cyclist or a vehicle is trying to turn and they fail to see one another.

Dooring remains a very common cause of cyclist injury and occasionally of death. Dooring occurs when a driver is parked at the side of the road and they open their door into the path of the cyclist. Safety advocates have been advocating the use of the ‘Dutch Reach’ for opening car doors for years. This means you use your right hand to open the car door. The manoeuvre forces you to turn and look over your shoulder out the door, hopefully reminding you to check for bikes.

Cyclists of course are to blame for accidents as well. It’s common to see them weaving in and out of traffic, and to even disobey stop signs and traffic lights. This is extremely dangerous and should be avoided. It makes it difficult even for diligent drivers to keep track of where the cyclist is on the road.

What can we do to reduce deaths on roads?

  • We can encourage more people to cycle thereby making them a more common and expected phenomenon for drivers to encounter.
  • We can create dedicated and separated bike lanes on all roadways in urban areas to start. This in turn will encourage more people to cycle and is shown to be safer.
  • We can put more emphasis on designing roads for cyclists and pedestrians.
  • We can rethink allowing right turns on red lights. These are known to be the source of many pedestrian and cyclist accidents and deaths.
  • As drivers we can make an effort to observe the road and doing shoulder checks before changing lanes or turning.
  • Drivers are required to allow at least a metre of space between their car and the cyclist. This allows space for the cyclist to swerve for road hazards and keep them from getting caught in the draft of a vehicle.
  • Both drivers and cyclists must follow the rules of the road, stopping at red lights and stop signs, yielding when required and signalling lane changes and turns.