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Top Ways to Stay Safe While Biking in Southern California

Steven R. Andrade Sept. 11, 2015

We agree with a local bicycling group that the Santa Barbara area is home to some of the finest year-round bicycling in the U.S. But as more bicyclists take to the roadways, it's important that cyclists recognize road hazards and know how to avoid bicycle accidents.

As Santa Barbara Car Free points out, well-marked bike paths cover the waterfront and extend west to Goleta and the UC-Santa Barbara campus. That is a great convenience for riders, especially students.

But Southern California bicyclists should keep in mind a report issued last year that California had the nation's highest number of bicycle accident deaths, with 338 cyclists killed in collisions with motor vehicles from 2010 to 2012. As the Los Angeles Times explained, the report from Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) report also indicated that the annual number of bicycle is increasing. The average number of annual bicycle traffic fatalities in California rose by 23 to 123 from 2010 to 2012.

The proportion of adult riders who are dying in bicycle accidents has increased. Riders age 20 and older represented 84 percent of bicyclist fatalities in 2012, compared to only 21 percent in 1975, the GHSA says. Adult male riders accounted for 74 percent of the total number of bicyclists killed in 2012.

The top two contributors to fatalities in bicycle accidents are lack of helmet use and alcohol impairment, the GHSA report says.

In 2012, 66 percent or more of bicyclists fatally injured in crashes were not wearing helmets, and 28 percent of cyclists age 16 or older had blood-alcohol concentrations (BAC) of .08 percent or more, which is the legal threshold for drunk driving.

Young adult bicyclists might be surprised to learn that it's against the law to ride a bicycle while under the influence of an alcoholic beverage or a drug under California law. A conviction could cost up to $250 in fines. If you are not yet 21 (the legal drinking age), your driving privileges will be suspended or delayed for a year.

California law also requires bicyclists younger than 18 to wear a bicycle helmet while riding on a public road (CVC §21212).

How to Stay Safe as A Cyclist Sharing the Roads with Cars

Regardless of your age, wearing a helmet is the best way to protect yourself from serious injury in a bicycle accident. As the National Safety Council says, a rider's head is usually the first body part to fly forward in a collision. Wearing a helmet reduces the risk of injury by 85 percent.

In addition to wearing a helmet and not riding while impaired, Southern California bicyclists can enhance the likelihood of a safe ride by:

  • Riding on dedicated bike paths or in bicycle lanes whenever they are available.

  • On roadways, riding with traffic and obeying all traffic laws. Bicyclists have the same right to use public roads as other motorists, but they also have the same responsibilities for following the rules of the road.

  • Using standard hand signals before making turns or changing lanes, and while slowing and coming to a stop.

Source: California Department of Motor Vehicles

  • Wearing brightly colored clothing during the day and, when riding at night, light-reflective clothing or a fluorescent riding vest.

  • Using bicycle lights and reflectors at night as required by law (CVC §21201), including a:

  • Front lamp emitting a white light that can be seen 300 feet away.

  • Rear red reflector visible from 500 feet away.

  • White or yellow reflector on each pedal visible from a distance of 200 feet. Reflectors on the bicyclist's shoes or ankles may substitute for pedal-mounted reflectors.

  • Riding to the right of traffic but keeping an eye out for curbs, sewer grates, debris and loose gravel. Be wary of parked cars and the potential for a door to be opened in your path.

The California Department of Motor Vehicle has additional tips to help bicyclists and motorists share the road safely.

In Santa Barbara County, bicyclists and those interested in riding should look into resources offered by:

  • Bike Santa Barbara County, with information about rides and tours, bike shops, bike rentals, bicyclist-friendly places to stay, and more.

  • Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition, a countywide advocacy and resource organization, with information about bike clubs, bike shops, bicycle rentals and more.

  • Traffic Solutions, which works to reduce traffic congestion, air pollution and vehicle miles driven in Santa Barbara County. In addition to offering other information, Traffic Solutions can help you arrange individual or group bicycle safety workshops, such as for your workplace. Traffic Solutions also offers downloadable or pre-printed countywide bicycle maps and links to the “Bike Map SBC” app available as an iPhone app and Android app.

  • Traffic Alternatives Program at UC-Santa Barbara. Students, faculty and staff at UCSB can join TAP and obtain access to on-campus showers and lockers, and (with some qualifications) rent bicycle lockers. Here's TAP's campus area bicycle map.

Contact Our Santa Barbara Bicycle Accident Attorney

Despite all you do to be a safe cyclist, you can still get into a collision with a car or truck because of someone else's carelessness or disregard for safety. If you have been injured in a bicycle accident caused by another motorist, contact Andrade Law Offices for a free, no-obligation initial legal consultation about your accident. We may be able to help you obtain compensation for medical bills, repairing or replacing your bike, and more.

We can also help if you've been arrested for riding a bicycle while under the influence, and in cases like that we offer a discount on our fees for college students.