If you are a bicyclist, you probably hear it all the time from non-bikers: “I wish those bicycles would just get off the road.” Or “I wouldn’t mind sharing the road with bicyclists if they would just follow the same rules as everyone else.” Or “People on bikes run red lights all the time.” It seems that no matter how many bicyclists ride safely, there are a very small number of bicyclists who give the rest of us a bad name. So how do you know if you are one of “those bikers” that give everyone else a bad reputation?
Following are top seven acts that are considered negligent while biking:
1. Not wearing safety gear. Safety gear includes helmets and, for night riding, bright, reflective clothing and lights. Although safety gear does not necessarily influence your ability to operate a bicycle, it does affect the severity of your injuries if you are involved in a crash. Visibility safety gear helps drivers to see you. Wisconsin Statute § 347.489 requires bicyclists riding at night to wear a lamp emitting white light visible for a distance of at least 500 feet to the front of the bicycle. If you are not adequately visible or protected, a jury may view you as biking recklessly.
2. Not keeping your bike in good working order. Wisconsin Statute § 347.489(2) requires bicycles to be equipped with brakes in good working condition adequate to control the movement of and stop the bicycle.
3. Riding on sidewalks. Bicycles are prohibited under Wis. Stat. § 346.94(1) from being driven on sidewalks unless otherwise authorized to do so by local authorities. When permitted to ride on the sidewalk, bicycles must yield to pedestrians pursuant to Wis. Stat. § 346.804.
4. Riding on the wrong side of the road. Bicycles should ride with the flow of traffic, not against it or in the direction of oncoming traffic. Traveling in the same direction as cars gives drivers the opportunity to see you, gauge your speed, and respond.
5. Biking too close to parked cars. In the Milwaukee area, most bike lanes are directly next to the parking lane. A common cause of bicycle crashes is getting “doored” by someone in a parked car opening their car door into a bicyclist’s path. Although it is a violation of Wis. Stat. § 346.94(20) for a person to open a car door into a bicyclist, it is equally important for bicyclists to look at the windows of parked cars and check for people in them. If you see anyone in a parked car, anticipate them opening their door and take preemptive evasive action.
6. Not watching for pedestrians. When you’re riding a bicycle, you are just as dangerous to pedestrians as cars are dangerous to you on your bike. You are the bigger, faster vehicle. Not to mention that a crash with a pedestrian risks not only seriously injuring that person, but you risk injury to yourself as well. Treat pedestrians with the same care you want motorists to treat you – watch for them, anticipate them moving into your path, and be prepared for evasive action. If you are passing a pedestrian proceeding in the same direction, give an audible signal in keeping with Wis. Stat. § 346.803.
7. Ignoring traffic signals. Bicyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as motorists except where laws applicable to cyclists supersede laws applicable to motorists or where the law, by its nature, has no applicability to cyclists. See Wis. Stat. § 346.02(4). As such, they are required by law to follow the rules of the road. Traffic signals are among the most obvious rules, but it is essential to follow the same rules you do when you are driving – come to a full stop at stop signs, stay in your lane, signal when switching lanes or turning, etc. On November 9, 2013, The New York Times ran an op-ed piece by Daniel Duane, entitled “Is it O.K. to Kill Cyclists?” In the article, Mr. Duane proposes that if every bicyclist would obey the letter of the law every moment they are in traffic, drivers and police officers would begin to view cyclists as “predictable users of the road.” He likewise notes that drivers must be vigilant at all moments and aware that the slightest inattention could lead to killing or seriously harming a “human being enjoying a legitimate form of transportation.” This is worthy advice and can help act as a self-monitoring guide in determining whether you are biking recklessly.