Springtime Driving Safety: Be Extra Cautious for Pedestrians, Bicyclists and Motorcyclists
By Dean I Weitzman, Esq. on May 4th, 2012
Children darting in front of moving cars, runners out getting a good workout, bicyclists migrating onto the roads after a winter layover and motorcyclists back out on their machines, enjoying the warmer weather as it arrives again – these are sure signs that spring is truly upon us.
With that, it’s also a great time as drivers to remember that we share the road with pedestrians and smaller two-wheeled vehicles that are no match for the weight, mass and power of our cars, SUVs and trucks when accidents occur.
As motorists, we all need to be careful and more aware to protect ourselves from legal liability in the event of an accident involving a pedestrian or a two-wheeled vehicle. And if it’s one of us walking, running or riding a bicycle or motorcycle, then we also need to understand our rights and protections as well when we are on the roadways.
A good way to accomplish this is to make adjustments for the extra activity as we drive on seemingly quiet streets in our neighborhoods or along busier roads where hazards may be less obvious.
Thousands of people are injured or killed in traffic accidents involving pedestrians, motorcycles and bicycles each year in the U.S.
In the U.S., 630 bicyclists were killed and another 51,000 were injured in accidents involving motor vehicles, according to NHTSA statistics. The number of fatalities was down 12% from the 718 deaths reported in 2008, according to the agency.
The number of pedestrians, including walkers and runners, who died across the U.S. in 2009 in accidents with motor vehicles stands at 4,092, according to NHTSA statistics.
Across the U.S., 4,462 motorcyclists died in 2009 in traffic accidents, according to the latest complete statistics available from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), compared with 2,483 deaths a decade earlier in 1999.
You and your loved ones certainly don’t want to become one of those tragic statistics. The monetary losses from those injuries and deaths are also significant and you certainly don’t want to be on the wrong end of any legal judgments in such cases.
As drivers of cars, trucks and SUVs, we always need to remember to watch carefully for smaller, less visible vehicles like bicycles and motorcycles as we drive. Remember to double-check your blind spots surrounding your vehicle and try to anticipate what bicyclists and motorcyclists are going to do as they cross your path.
Drivers in Pennsylvania also need to keep in mind that new laws went into effect recently that require drivers to give bicyclists a much wider berth on roads – at least four feet of room when passing bicycle riders on public streets. The new law makes it legal for drivers to cross the painted yellow lines on streets as they negotiate to give bicyclist safe room for passing. Now you don’t have to worry about being ticketed by a police officer for crossing the yellow lines as you pass a bicyclist.
Bicyclists can obtain some great advice on riding safely on public roadways and how to avoid the most common types of bicycle/vehicle crashes at the “How Not To Get Hit By Cars” Web site, which includes helpful and easy-to-understand tips and illustrations on avoiding the top 10 types of bicycle/motor vehicle crashes, such as when a driver opens a door in front of a cyclist to a vehicle that pulls out in front of a bicyclist without seeing it.
Parents of younger cyclists can also help their children learn about safer riding styles by sharing The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) “Kids and Bicycle Safety” Tip Sheet to give good advice about bike safety.
Among the key rules of the road for children, from the NHTSA:
- Go With the Traffic Flow. Ride on the right in the same direction as other vehicles. Go with the flow – not against it.
- Obey All Traffic Laws. A bicycle is a vehicle and you’re a driver. When you ride in the street, obey all traffic signs, signals, and lane markings.
- Yield to Traffic When Appropriate. Almost always, drivers on a smaller road must yield (wait) for traffic on a major or larger road. If there is no stop sign or traffic signal and you are coming from a smaller roadway (out of a driveway, from a sidewalk, a bike path, etc.), you must slow down and look to see if the way is clear before proceeding. This also means yielding to pedestrians who have already entered a crosswalk.
- Be Predictable. Ride in a straight line, not in and out of cars. Signal your moves to others.
- Stay Alert at All Times. Use your eyes AND ears. Watch out for potholes, cracks, wet leaves, storm grates, railroad tracks, or anything that could make you lose control of your bike. You need your ears to hear traffic and avoid dangerous situations; don’t wear a headset when you ride.
- Look Before Turning. When turning left or right, always look behind you for a break in traffic, then signal before making the turn. Watch for left- or right-turning traffic.
- Watch for Parked Cars. Ride far enough out from the curb to avoid the unexpected from parked cars (like doors opening, or cars pulling out).
And for bicycle riders under 10 years of age, the NHTSA suggests riding on sidewalks rather than on streets. If you do ride on a sidewalk:
- Check the law in your State or jurisdiction to make sure sidewalk riding is allowed.
- Watch for vehicles coming out of or turning into driveways.
- Stop at corners of sidewalks and streets to look for cars and to make sure the drivers see you before crossing.
- Enter a street at a corner and not between parked cars. Alert pedestrians that you are near by saying, “Excuse me,” or, “Passing on your left,” or use a bell or horn.
When driving near pedestrians, it’s always wise to use extra caution, according to PennDOT’s DriveSafe.org Web site.
Drivers should be especially attentive around special pedestrian safety areas which use traffic-slowing devices in intersections or along busy roadways. The safety areas use clear signs to remind motorists to yield to pedestrians and to stop when people are in the special crossings, according to PennDOT.
“The signs are designed to remind motorists of Pennsylvania law requiring the operator of a vehicle to yield the right of way to a pedestrian crossing a roadway within any marked crosswalk or within any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection where there are no traffic controls or traffic controls are not in operation,” the agency says. Violators of the law are subject to a $50 fine.
PennDOT has distributed more than 6,800 devices since 2001, while pedestrian crashes have fallen by 25 percent over that time, the agency reports.
Motorcyclists have their own special safety needs on our roadways. When operating a motorcycle, you should wear full protective gear including a helmet, jacket, gloves, long pants and boots to protect you in the event of an accident, according to the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF). The MSF also offers excellent rider training programs for beginning motorcyclists as well as advanced classes for expert riders to help build and maintain your survival skills on the roads. All motorcyclists should take advantage of such opportunities.
For operators of both motorcycles and bicycles, one of the best ways to protect yourselves is to ride as though you are invisible to other motorists. Imagine that they can’t or don’t see you and ride defensively to protect yourself at all times.
Safety is the responsibility of all of us, from motorists of the four-wheeled kind to motorcyclists and bicyclists.
As you drive this summer, remember to practice safe driving habits by carefully watching for vehicles of all sizes and be sure to maintain adequate following distances. In addition, be sure to use caution around slower-moving vehicles and drive defensively rather than aggressively to help minimize the dangers to yourself and others on the roads.
A lawsuit or major injury from a collision or crash involving a bicyclist or motorcyclist would turn the joys of summer into a nightmare.
Yes, accidents and injuries can happen anywhere and anytime, but if we all use more caution and remain more aware of the traffic situation around us, we can improve safety for everyone.
And remember, if you are injured in a motorcycle, bicycle or pedestrian accident, contact MyPhillyLawyer for caring, skilled and compassionate legal representation.
When winning matters most, call MyPhillyLawyer. We’re here to help you and your family.