Making Michigan Roads Safer for Bicyclists
July 22, 2016
In Michigan in 2015, fatal bicycle accidents increased 57 percent, rising from 21 such accidents in 2014 to 33 in 2015. The state government is actively looking into the reasons for the rise in accidents and fatalities and what could be done to improve the safety of cyclists and all pedestrians. To that end, the Office of Highway Safety Planning held a bicycle and pedestrian safety conference in April and has plans for more work with the public in the near future to bring everyone and their ideas together to address this problem. Melody Kindraka, the spokeswoman for the office, has said that they are determined to tackle the challenge of making the roads safer. John Lindenmayer, the executive director of the League of Michigan Bicyclists, welcomes that effort but also wants two changes made now, in the wake of several serious accidents in the past several months. He and the league are asking that a safe passing law be put into effect that requires motorists to give bicyclists at least five feet when passing them and that drivers who hit a bicyclist or pedestrian and either kill or severely injure them receive stiffer penalties.
Michigan does currently have a set of rules in place that are designed to protect bicyclists. Some of them are common sense, but others are less obvious. They are as follows:
- Location: You should always bike as close as possible to the right curb (with exceptions for things such as turning left or avoiding debris). Never ride with multiple bicycles next to each other. Do not try to straddle lanes of traffic.
- Signals: If you’re going to stop, turn, or speed up or slow down significantly, use the appropriate hand signal to let other cyclists and drivers know. If you’re going to be riding at night, make sure you add lights and reflectors to your bike to signal your presence in the dark.
- People: Don’t allow extra people to ride on your bike. Make sure that you yield to anyone walking nearby, especially if you have to bike on the sidewalk.
In addition to these rules, there are multiple other ways for cyclists to protect themselves. They include the following:
- Always keep both hands on the handlebars (this means no cell phone use while biking, and no carrying drinks or anything else in your hand).
- Wear protective gear and a helmet to lessen the likelihood of severe injury if you do have an accident.
- Ride in bike lanes when possible.
- Always follow the rules of the road, just as you would if you were driving.
Of course, a large part of the responsibility in protecting bicyclists also lies with drivers. They must be patient and willing to truly share the road, watching carefully at intersections and when making turns in order to accommodate any approaching cyclists. With all of the fatal crashes that Michigan has seen this year, from the Kalamazoo accident that claimed five lives and seriously injured four to the most recent accident in Detroit in which two cyclists were severely injured, it’s clear that something needs to change. Although there is no way to prevent every accident, as Lindenmayer says, “Many of these tragedies are absolutely preventable.” It’s up to the community on both a legislative and a personal level to work together and try to prevent them.