Safe Commuting Guide

Being on the roads can be a daunting prospect for a would-be cycle commuters. There is an unwarranted perception that cycling on roads is difficult and dangerous.

In fact Per mile, more people get killed walking than cycling according to the UK's National Travel Survey.

Cycling has earned a reputation as a dangerous mode of transport because cyclists are perceived as a minority group; there are far more motorists than cyclists on the road. Coupled with the fact that you don’t have a thick metal shell around you (like car drivers) this can make cyclists feel threatened and vulnerable.

Also, people feel the need to justify why they drive a gas-guzzling car intead of a clean, green bike. It’s easier to say “It’s too dangerous” than “I’m too unfit”.

It has recently been shown in a government study that the more cyclists who ride in a given area, the fewer accidents happen (Jacobsen, P. 2003). This is because of increased awareness of cyclists by other road users. This is a virtuous circle – the more people cycle, the safer they are.

So it’s not excessively dangerous. But how can you minimise any risk to yourself whilst cycling on roads?

The number one tip for an aspiring cycle commuter is cycle defensively on the road. If you ride like you belong there, other road users will respect you and give you space.

Here are our top tips for riding safely on road:

  1. Own the lane - You should always be at least 2 feet (60cm) out from the kerb. Deliberately riding in the middle of the road is called ‘the primary position’ or ‘taking the lane’ if you’re American. It ensures you are seen by other road users and forces cars to acknowledge you; overtaking properly or waiting until it is safe to do so.
  2. Constant vigilance - Car drivers can come from any direction at any time. If you take this assumption, and concentrate, you will stay safer. By looking up side roads and over your shoulder regularly, you will become aware of cars, where they are going and who is a likely hazard.
  3. Make eye contact - Looking a driver in the eye lets you know that they have seen you.
  4. Positive signalling - Assert yourself by signalling firmly. You are telling the other road users where you are going, not asking their permission. Signalling also makes you a wider object in the road, dissuading other drivers from passing you recklessly.
  5. Overtaking on the right is best for visibility. Cars look for faster vehicles on the right out of habit. Only filter up the inside if the traffic is stationary – watch for doors opening and pedestrians crossing! Passing on the inside can be fatal, especially if it is a long vehicle.

The danger zones:

Junctions - A large number of accidents happen around junctions. Be extra vigilant and make eye contact with drivers who are waiting to pull out.

Traffic Lights - Don’t go through red lights; It’s illegal, which should be reason enough. It is also very dangerous because other road users are not looking for vehicles crossing their path; they’re just gone through a green light! In addition, it makes cyclists look like irresponsible lawbreakers, and can antagonise motorists.

Roundabouts - This is a controversial subject for cyclists. The Highway Code suggests that cyclists should follow the outside lane until their exit. Many people feel that this is bad advice; using the outside lane leaves you more vulnerable to vehicles entering the roundabout and those leaving the roundabout. It also increases your time on the roundabout – a bad thing. Most suggest that cyclists use the roundabout like a regular road user, following the same process as those in cars or on motorbikes. This involves signalling and moving into the inside if your exit is not the first around the roundabout. This keeps you away from traffic entering and leaving the roundabout, increasing the time they have to notice you.

Hopefully, following these simple steps will keep you safe and help you know what to watch out for. The best way to remain safe on the roads and boost your confidence is a recognised cycle training course. Here is a list of our favourites providers:

http://www.ctc.org.uk - The UK’s national cyclists’ organisation

http://www.cycletraining.co.uk - A not-for-profit training co-operative

http://www.bikeright.co.uk/ - Manchester based firm offering cycle training on and off road

http://www.outspokentraining.co.uk/ - A training provider offering 3 levels of on road course

http://www.cycleconfident.com/ - London based trainer

http://cycletrainingwestmidlands.co.uk/

http://www.cycleexeter.org.uk/get-cycling/cycle-training/

For more information on road safety, you may want to purchase a copy of the highway code at £2.50 from http://www.direct.gov.uk

Return to our commuter guides.