Crash Reflection Essay Bikes

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en españolSeguridad en la bicicleta

It's a beautiful day — the sun is shining, the birds are chirping. What could be more perfect than a bike ride? But wait! Before you pull your bike out of the garage, let's find out how to stay safe on two wheels.

Why Is Bicycle Safety So Important?

Bike riding is a lot of fun, but accidents happen. The safest way to use your bike is for transportation, not play. Every year, about 300,000 kids go to the emergency department because of bike injuries, and at least 10,000 kids have injuries that require a few days in the hospital. Some of these injuries are so serious that children die, usually from head injuries.

A head injury can mean brain injury. That's why it's so important to wear your bike helmet. Wearing one doesn't mean you can be reckless, but a helmet will provide some protection for your face, head, and brain in case you fall down.

A Helmet How-To

Bike helmets are so important that the U.S. government has created safety standards for them. Your helmet should have a sticker that says it meets standards set by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). If your helmet doesn't have a CPSC sticker, ask your mom or dad to get you one that does. Wear a bike helmet EVERY TIME YOU RIDE, even if you are going for a short ride.

Your bike helmet should fit you properly. You don't want it too small or too big. Never wear a hat under your bike helmet. If you're unsure if your helmet fits you well, ask someone at a bike store.

Once you have the right helmet, you need to wear it the right way so it will protect you. It should be worn level and cover your forehead. Don't tip it back so your forehead is showing. The straps should always be fastened. If the straps are flying, it's likely to fall off your head when you need it most. Make sure the straps are adjusted so they're snug enough that you can't pull or twist the helmet around on your head.

Take care of your bike helmet and don't throw it around. That could damage the helmet and it won't protect you as well when you really need it. If you do fall down and put your helmet to the test, be sure to get a new one. They don't work as well after a major crash.

Many bike helmets today are lightweight and come in cool colors. If you don't love yours as it is, personalize it with some of your favorite stickers. Reflective stickers are a great choice because they look cool and make you more visible to people driving cars.

Helmet On, Now What?

Riding a bike that is the right size for you also help keeps you safe.

  • When you are on your bicycle, stand straddling the top bar of your bike so that both feet are flat on the ground.
  • There should be 1 to 3 inches (2.5 to 7.6 centimeters) of space between you and the top bar.

Here's a safety checklist your mom or dad can help you do:

  • Make sure your seat, handlebars, and wheels fit tightly.
  • Check and oil your chain regularly.
  • Check your brakes to be sure they work well and aren't sticking.
  • Check your tires to make sure they have enough air and the right amount of tire pressure.

Be Seen, Be Safe!

Wearing bright clothes and putting reflectors on your bike also can help you stay safe. It helps other people on the road see you. And if they see you, that means they're less likely to run into you. Daytime riding is the safest so try to avoid riding your bike at dusk and later.

You'll also want to make sure that nothing will get caught in your bike chain, such as loose pant legs, backpack straps, or shoelaces. Wear the right shoes — sneakers — when you bike. Sandals, flip-flops, shoes with heels, and cleats won't help you grip the pedals. And never go riding barefoot! Riding gloves may help you grip the handlebars — and make you look like a professional!

But avoid wearing headphones because the music can distract you from noises around you, such as a car blowing its horn so you can get out of the way.

Where to Ride

You need to check with your mom and dad about where you're allowed to ride your bike. You need to know how far you're allowed to go and whether you should ride on the sidewalk or in the street. Kids younger than 10 years should ride on the sidewalk and avoid the street.

No matter where you ride, you need to keep an eye out for cars and trucks. Even if you're just riding on sidewalk, a car may pull out of its driveway into the path of your bike. If you're crossing a busy road, it's best to walk your bike across the street.

A bike path free of cars is a great choice if there's one in your area. Just remember to share the path with the other riders, walkers, and strollers who also might be using it! And if you're going on a long ride, bring some water along with you.

Keep an eye on the road ahead so you can be prepared for big hills and road obstacles. Some common ones that can cause falls include:

  • wet leaves
  • big puddles
  • changes in the road or sidewalk surface
  • storm grates
  • gravel or rocks
  • curbs
  • little kids in your way!

Road Rules

If you're allowed to ride on the street, follow these road rules:

  • Always ride with your hands on the handlebars.
  • Always stop and check for traffic in both directions when leaving your driveway, an alley, or a curb.
  • Cross at intersections. When you pull out between parked cars, drivers can't see you coming.
  • Walk your bike across busy intersections using the crosswalk and following traffic signals.
  • Ride on the right-hand side of the street, so you travel in the same direction as cars do. Never ride against traffic.
  • Use bike lanes or designated bike routes wherever you can.
  • Don't ride too close to parked cars. Doors can open suddenly.
  • Stop at all stop signs and obey traffic (red) lights just as cars do.
  • Ride single-file on the street with friends.
  • When passing other bikers or people on the street, always pass to their left side, and call out "On your left!" so they know that you are coming.

Hand Signals

It will also help to learn some hand signals. These are like turn signals and brake lights for bikers. It helps cars and trucks know what you will do next, so they don't run into you.

Now that you've learned those hand signals, we'd like to give you a big thumbs-up for finding out more about bike safety!

A couple of years ago I took a condensed version of the training programme for cycle officers with London's City police, a process which began with my instructor following me to assess my riding as we pedalled through the busy streets. His verdict? Mainly fine, barring what he insisted on terming a "mistake" - that even in early afternoon on a bright April day I was not wearing some sort of high-visibility waistcoat or jacket.

High vis is a vexed subject for cyclists. Probably only helmets and light jumping cause more arguments. Ultimately, of course, what you wear on your bike is personal choice. Full Lycra gimp garb? Office clothes? Nothing at all? Go right ahead. Nonetheless, the debate merits an airing, for two reasons.

First we have what you might call the cycling culture argument: the more non-cyclists see people on bikes dressed as if they were on a building site or directing airliners towards a runway, the more they implicitly absorb the message that cycling is inherently unsafe. It's not, and as cannot be pointed out too often long-term inactivity carries its own perils, less immediately obvious but statistically far more significant.

Aside from the much-reported correlation of more cyclists making cycling safer overall, the connotations of a high-vis culture arguably also make cycling less accessible. Riding a bike is, if not actual combat then certainly some kind of specialist pursuit, goes the unspoken message. Don't try it unless you're young, fit and fearless.

Such concerns about high vis can be tricky to put across. For one thing it's a nuanced argument, something I believe is actually illegal on some parts of the internet. But also, you're presumably asking riders to take a slightly greater immediate risk themselves for the sake of a future common good.

Or are you?

The Transport Research Laboratory (TRL), the Department for Transport-affiliated boffin repository which produces a wealth of studies each year, has been looking into this. They have examined decades of research on the ways by which motorcyclists can increase their visibility and thus avoid so-called Smidsy ("Sorry mate, I didn't see you!") collisions, such as cars pulling out in front of them.

Yes, it's about motorbikes, which must be borne in mind when reaching any conclusions. That said, there is considerably more research on motorcycle visibility than there is on bikes, so it's worth examining even of you never get above 10mph on two wheels.

The authors looked at 12 studies dating back as far as 1969, a number of which seemed to show that a fluorescent jacket or similar garb made riders more visible. However, the paper notes that many of these put the bikes against relatively uniform backdrops rather than the every-varying contrast of a moving landscape.

One study, from 2011, appeared to show that drivers saw moving motorbikes more quickly if there was a greater colour contrast between the background and the rider's clothes. Another, from last year, concluded that depending on the road and traffic the most visible rider apparel could be a high-vis jacket, a white jacket or even a black jacket.

The TRL's report says:

The results are interesting in that they show the previously held assertion that a bright reflective jacket will improve rider conspicuity may not always be true ...

[T]he message seems to be that the most conspicuous outfit will be dictated by the lighting conditions and local environment at the time, which may be extremely variable within the confines of even a fairly short ride.

In the conclusion they add:

Given that environments may differ over even fairly small changes in time or location, there is not likely to be a one-size-fits-all solution, meaning that motorcyclists need to be aware of the limitations of whichever interventions they use.

This is an important message. Albeit once again (I'm sorry) a nuanced one. I'm not encouraging anyone to throw out their high-vis vest. At the very, very least it most likely won't do any harm, beyond maybe getting you a bit sweaty, and it might do some good. But – and this is the key – don't head out there assuming you'll automatically be seen just because you've dressed head to toe in incandescent yellow.

That said, the lessons only pertain to daylight hours. Virtually all high-vis items have reflective patches or strips, which are, without doubt, a boon after dark.

As an aside, the same report also examines what's known about how to best ensure motorbike lights are spotted. These lessons are arguably one step again removed from cycling because of the evident difference in lighting strength. That said, I found it interesting that the studies seemed to show motorbike lights are most obvious to drivers when they stand out from the crowd, for example if they're a different shade or set up as a combination of sources.

That ties in with the longstanding cycle light orthodoxy of flashing LEDs. I take this one step further by using two lights at the front and the rear, with differing flash patterns and, where possible, different shapes - hence my new, somewhat early-days-of-rave auxiliary back light.

• Note: The TRL usually charge for reports so I can't link to the study. I've provided links to the two earlier papers I mention.

Update

TRL have got in touch to say they don't charge for PDF copies of reports. You have to register on their website but downloads are free. This is the link for the report relevant here.

They've asked me to point out, too, that while they do a lot of work for the DfT they've been independent since the DfT sold them off in 1996.

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