In Wake of Accidents, U.Va. Police Department Promotes Bicycle Safety

April 23, 2010 — Bicycle safety was an element of the transportation resource fair held Wednesday at the Observatory Hill Dining Hall as part of the University of Virginia's Earth Week events.

There is a heightened awareness of bicycle safety this week, after two University student cyclists were injured – one fatally – in two separate collisions with vehicles.

Officer Angela Tabler, the University Police department's crime prevention and community relations officer, talked to students at the fair about safety issues. She set up a table from which she distributed material on bicycle safety, explained how the traffic laws apply to bicycles, and registered bicycles.

"One of the biggest causes of bicycle vehicle accidents is the bicycle rider assuming that the vehicle drivers sees him or her," Tabler said.

She said bicyclists can increase their visibility by wearing bright clothing, using lights and reflectors, particularly at night, and wearing a colorful safety helmet.

She also said that bicyclists must be predictable in their behavior and obey all traffic laws.

"A bicycle is a vehicle," she said. "Whatever laws apply to vehicles apply to bicycles. They have to stop for pedestrians, they are supposed to walk the bicycle on a crosswalk."

Tabler said about 60 students had approached her table during her three-hour stint. While students inquired about safety Wednesday, Tabler said frequently when she is presenting her bicycle safety message elsewhere on Grounds, it is the parents of students who seek out the details.

According a safety e-mail recently sent out by the University's Office of Emergency Preparedness, about 33,000 people die in car crashes in the U.S. each year; about one in 41 is a bicyclist.

"Don't fall for the myth that wearing a helmet is the first and last word in biking safety," the e-mail warned.

The office recently posted on its website some bicycle safety tips, which included:

• Avoid busy streets. It's usually better to take the streets with fewer and slower cars.
• Light up. Too obvious? Well, if it's so obvious, then why do most nighttime cyclists ride without lights?
• Take the whole lane when appropriate. It's often safer to take the whole lane, or at least ride a little bit to the left, rather than hug the right curb. Cars at intersections ahead of you can see you better and taking the lane prevents cars from passing you too closely on narrow roadways.
• Signal your turns. You're less likely to get hit when your movement doesn't take motorists by surprise.
• Re-think music players and mobile phones. It's even more important to hear what's around you when you're biking than when you're driving a car.
• Ride as if you were invisible. It's often helpful to ride in such a way that motorists won't hit you even if they don't see you.

Tabler encouraged students to register their bicycles with the police department, recording the make, model and serial number. She said having this information on file makes it easier to identify and recover a bicycle if it is stolen. She advised students who have expensive bicycles to leave them home and get an inexpensive one to ride around Grounds. If they do bring an expensive bicycle, she said they should make arrangements to store it securely indoors.

— by Matt Kelly