In the following few tips on riding safely with automobile traffic, it might sound like we think bicyclists are the ones usually responsible in a bicycle-automobile crash. Far from it! We know that bicyclists tend to be more alert than automobile drivers--they have to be.
And that is just it. A bicyclist, like any individual, must be conscious of the fact that s/he is responsible for his/her own safety. The bicyclist must control their part of the road, so that--like any vehicle--they can scan the road ahead and make their way along in a straight line. Don't weave in and out of your "safe zone" in traffic, and don't bet your life that car drivers will be good citizens. With defensive riding habits, you can stay safe!
Here it is in three rules:
-Be as visible as possible.
Wear lights at night, stick your hand out, wave it around, do whatever necessary so that you know that you are clearly visible to bored, distracted automobile drivers.
If there is ever a car behind me and I do not think it is safe for them to pass, I stick my left arm out at a 45 degree angle and point at the ground. It is unfortunately a not-quite turn signal, but it lets drivers know that I consider that area my space.
I have found that even the most aggressive drivers will come only as close to my outstretched hand as they otherwise would to my body. Just like that, my worst-case scenario for a car coming from behind and passing me on the left has gone from them squeezing me off the road or hitting me, to them hitting an outstretched hand. Don't play the odds that a driver will have good judgment, make sure drivers are aware that you expect them to follow the law in Kentucky: three feet to the side to pass a bike. If you are anywhere in the lane, they should basically be changing lanes to pass you.
-Ride predictably, signaling violently where appropriate.
Only move out of the lane and to the right if you have enough future open space, and traffic is light enough, that you will be able to move back into the flow of traffic without having to ask a new car behind you to yield and let you in. It is great that you consider yourself a bicycle ambassador. We want to win the hearts of automobile drivers, but do not let your considerate nature get in the way of your safety. Better to just stick well in the lane and try to go as fast with traffic as possible than to weave in and out of traffic and get squeezed to the right.
-Know your "safe zone."
At least one and a half feet away from any obstructions to the right, or in the same position relative to any potential future obstructions, based on your knowledge of the type of road you are on. If the obstructions or potential future obstructions to the right are parked cars, then the bicyclist should be a full car door's length away from those cars/potential future cars. Do not compromise on this basic principle; the lane is your birthright as a vehicle!
Remember, know the law! If you use your good judgment, chances are the law will be on your side, although you might have to remind the police.
For those of you interested in better, more comprehensive instructions, see this great page on bicycle safety, with cartoons that show how bike wrecks occur and how to avoid them.
Remember, stay out of bike lanes if there are parked cars to the right of them!
by John Wade