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Promoting the Safety Culture

Safety Corner logoAs reported last month, the CRW Board of Directors unanimously approved and adopted the CRW Safety Policy:

“The CRW promotes safe, courteous, and lawful cycling practices. CRW members are expected to cycle in a safe, courteous, and lawful manner when participating in CRW rides, and to encourage the same among fellow members and CRW guests.”

The Safety Policy formally recognizes the importance to the CRW and its members of safe, courteous, and lawful cycling. Now it’s up to the rest of us to promote the safety culture through our actions and our words. We face several important barriers, including:
• The Herd Instinct: We humans have an innate tendency to follow the crowd—to do as others are doing—without thinking for ourselves and making our own decisions;
• Competitiveness: We want to show others that we can keep up (even when it would be safer or more courteous to fall behind);
• Lack of Knowledge: Some of us don’t know the rules of the road or understand safe cycling practices;
• Lack of Skills: Some of us lack key riding skills needed to keep our bikes under good control at all times and to follow a predictable path;
• Road Rage: We can point fingers at the motorists, but we fall victims to it, too; and
• Fear: Overreacting out of fear (riding too far onto an unsafe shoulder, braking or swerving suddenly and without warning, etc.) makes us less safe. Fear also clouds judgment and increases muscle tension (taking away the damping properties of a relaxed body that helps keep a bike stable).

CRW ride leaders and Safety Committee members promote safety through pre-ride safety talks and safety articles. However, promoting the safety culture in the face of these powerful barriers requires much more; it requires the membership at large (that means you) to set a good example and to talk it up.

Where can you start? Two key challenges that all cycling groups face are:
• Yielding to other users of the roadway when appropriate; and
• Facilitating the smooth flow of traffic.

Yielding: Most of us know when we have the right of way, and when we don’t. The problem is, we don’t like to slow down and we certainly don’t like to stop. This is understandable—cyclists work very hard to get momentum and we hate to lose it. So, it takes extra effort and discipline for a cyclist to yield properly. “Yielding properly” does NOT mean barreling into an intersection at a speed that barely allows time to panic-stop if traffic happens to be coming. It means approaching the intersection a) slowly, so that we can stop safely, and b) in a manner that communicates to approaching traffic that we intend to yield. Many times, motorists stop for us (when they have the right of way), not because they are being polite, but because we show no signs of yielding and they don’t want to hit us!

Facilitating the Smooth Flow of Traffic: We facilitate the smooth traffic flow by allowing faster traffic (motorists and faster cyclists) to overtake us with relative ease (but without compromising our safety). Why do this? First, if we want motorists to share the road with us, let’s share the road with them, too. Second, unnecessarily impeding motorists can encourage road rage, which in turn can endanger our friends riding ahead of us. Third (albeit less important), courtesy enhances acceptance of cycling clubs and group rides by the communities in which we ride.

Facilitating smooth traffic flow can be tricky, especially on group rides, and requires a multi-faceted approach. Despite our narrow width, cyclists sit quite tall in the saddle compared to where most motorists sit, sometimes making it tough to see beyond us for safe passing. Large groups of cyclists can be particularly tough to pass safely, especially on narrow or twisty roads, regardless of our formation (i.e., whether single file or clustered).

The first step is to keep riding groups small. We suggest a maximum of 6—certainly no more than 8. Do your best to encourage larger groups to split up. Ride leaders can help by staggering ride starts. Staggered starts usually won’t get us all the way to groups of 6 or fewer, but it certainly helps avoid mega clusters of cyclists and makes it easier for riders to split up further on their own.

The second step is keeping right. Ride as far right as pavement conditions allow, unless you are preparing for a left turn, riding at the speed of traffic, descending a hill at high speed, intentionally occupying your lane (because it’s unsafe for motorists to pass you within the travel lane), entering an intersection, avoiding the “door zone” when passing parked cars, or otherwise positioning yourself to be more visible to motorists. The list of exceptions is long, but at most times on suburban or rural roadways we don’t need to ride very far into the traffic lane to be safe.

The third step is watching for approaching traffic. Motorists approaching from behind often can not be heard above the wind and other noises inundating our ears. If your riding group is not already single file, you will need to be vigilant about checking for traffic. While there is some controversy among cyclists about mirrors, these devices provide a very convenient way to check for approaching traffic. If you don’t use a mirror, you’ll need to turn around and look frequently, without swerving. Since riders near the back of a group can block the rearward view of riders near the front, it is helpful for riders near the back to announce approaching traffic by calling out “car back”. However, each cyclist is responsible for keeping track of traffic, regardless of position within the group. Frequent checks for approaching traffic are much less important if your group is already riding single file.

The fourth step is getting single file when traffic approaches. This doesn’t mean waiting to finish your sentence, waiting for others to shout “car back”, or waiting until the approaching motorist honks—it means as soon as safety considerations permit. To facilitate singling up quickly and safely, never ride more than two abreast. Ride single file at all times on heavily traveled roads, unless the shoulder is wide enough that motorists can pass unimpeded.

Practicing and promoting safe, courteous, and lawful cycling may seem like a daunting task, but don’t underestimate the impact that your individual behavior, words, and attitude can have. You can be much more influential than you may realize!

Remember—safety is about choices. What choices will you make?

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