STONE: Share The Road is more than a reminder, it saves lives

The past few months have been met with tragedy, particularly to the cycling community. With a thriving economy bringing more people to the area, traffic congestion is at an all-time high carrying with it a higher potential for accidents. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 818 cyclists were killed in motor vehicle traffic crashes in the United States, an increase from 729 in 2014.

Pedalcyclists accounted for 2.3 percent of all traffic fatalities and 1.8 percent of the people injured in traffic crashes for the year. While these percentages seem small in comparison, the rising trends highlight that opportunities still exist to reduce these preventable deaths and injurie. Since crashes occur by a motorist’s lack of attention and/or the bicyclist’s behavior, the burden of responsibility falls on BOTH to insure safer roads for us all.

From a motorist’s perspective, sharing the road with bicycles can be a bit challenging. Many drivers might become inpatient, especially when having to slow down. Sure, bikes are not as fast as cars, but consider their vulnerability compared to the average two ton car. While the initial response would be to blow past a bike, passing too close can cause a cyclist to crash either by contact or being run off the road.

Motorists should keep a comfortable distance behind a bike, maintaining awareness, and pass smoothly when clear of oncoming traffic offering at least 3 feet between your vehicle and the bike you are passing. For those that do not know, bicycles are considered roadway vehicles … meaning those riding them are entitled to the same rights and responsibilities as motorists. Also, aside from being cognizant of your surroundings while on the road, be sure to look both ways and behind you when stopping or exiting your vehicle. Bottom line, when or if you find yourself becoming inpatient or even a bit irritated, recognize the fact a human being is on that bike who also has family and friends waiting for him to come home safely just like you.

Let us not forget too that bike lanes are made for just that…bikes. How many times have we seen vehicles merging or driving in these lanes, or obstructed with cars parked in them? Please respect this and make sure these lanes remain open, even if you do not see cyclists on the streets. Not only does it serve as a reminder to share the road, it gets us in a habit to drive safer, slow down when necessary, and remain alert … at ALL times.

On the flip side, bicyclists have an equally important role in their own safety and that of others as well. Even though the privilege in riding a bike carries the same rights to the road as driving a car…this means you too must also follow the same rules and regulations as your gas-powered counterparts. Certain reckless behaviors such as changing lanes without signaling, weaving in and out of traffic, not wearing a helmet, failing to equip your bike with proper reflective material, and driving in the wrong lane are all surefire bets to increase your risk for injury.

Since bikes offer minimal protection, there is an even greater responsibility to cycle in as safe as manner as possible. This means obeying ALL traffic laws and understanding, as the slowest vehicle in traffic, do what you can to keep to the right side of the road. Avoiding distractions such as cell phones and texting, along with yielding to pedestrians are vitally important to maximize situational awareness to both seen and unforeseen dangers.

Some may argue cyclists should find other places to ride their bike or switch to a stationary bike to get their exercise. Folks, that’s like telling a golfer to play a golf video game or play a round indoors on a simulation screen. For these cyclists, it’s more than staying fit and active. It’s a lifestyle which provides joy, comradery, and fulfillment for those that live it. The great outdoors and roadways are shared privileges for all to enjoy … regardless of the activities by which they are used to get us to the things we have a passion for and enjoy.

Ultimately, mutual respect is the common denominator to insure safe roadways for all that use them. Road rage is all too common these days and the complexities of congested traffic only add to this powder keg ready to blow. The basic principles of “love thy neighbor” needs to be exercised on our roads and highways just as it does when holding the door open for someone.

Don’t let the bonehead actions of one individual characterize the whole bunch. Sure, there are some pretty careless motorists and bicyclists out there that do not help the cause. However, don’t let this dictate future driving habits and negatively influence our own behaviors. Texans are known for their hospitality and courtesy … it’s time we start living up to our billing.