Illinois Bicycling Safety

On August 20, 2009, a bicyclist was hit by a car on a busy southwest highway at about 3pm. He died later that day at about 8pm. The Chicago cyclist was not wearing a helmet when he was thrown into the windshield of a car and then out onto the pavement. Could this have been avoided?

About 1,000 deaths each year are attributed to bicycle accidents. Three fourths of them are from brain injuries. And besides death, accidents have caused hundreds of brain injuries. One way to prevent this is to wear a helmet. There are lots of lame excuses not to wear one – you’ll get hat head, it’s too sweaty, it doesn’t look cool, etc. – but how lame is it to suffer a permanent brain injury if you don’t wear one? Be sure you get one that has been tested and recommended by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM). Make sure the helmet fits right. Be sure that when it is on it can’t be moved easily from side to side or back and forth. Be sure it sits level on your head and that when the straps are on it cannot possibly come off your head.
Other things to think about with helmets is to be sure to replace them if the helmet has experienced an impact after a fall, etc. You should also replace it every five years as the foam can become brittle.

Bicycles must obey the same rules of the road as vehicles. This is often where bicyclists have accidents. It is easy for bicyclists to get around in traffic being smaller and more maneuverable. The problem is that this makes a cyclist less predictable for a driver. It is important that bicyclists follow the same rules of the road as cars. This means riding single file to the right side of the road whenever possible and using hand signals to indicate when they are turning or stopping. This communication between cyclist and driver must exist as it does just between cars.

It’s important for cyclists to know the rules for bicycles alone. Bicycles are not allowed on expressways, Lakeshore drive and sidewalks (if they are 11 yrs old or older). They cannot go down one way streets the opposite direction and cannot drive against traffic on two way roads. Bike messengers must, by law, wear a helmet and also have other laws they must obey. Violating any of these rules will get a cyclist a $25 ticket. If you don’t have ID with you, you will be brought to the police station and held until someone can cover your bond.

Cyclists should learn what to do in case of an accident. Helmets are your biggest protection against a brain injury in a fall so hopefully all cyclists will wear them. If you see an accident coming, though, don’t try to skid or wipe out and go low. Doing this will increase the chance of the cyclist going under the car and its wheels. The under part of a car has lots of sharp parts and can cause very serious injury. Try to stay upright as long as possible. If you are hit try to curl up into a ball to keep your arms and legs from being broken or seriously injured. Once you hit the ground try to roll with arms and legs tucked in until you stop moving.

If a cyclist is involved in a traffic accident they should stay still until they realize they are unharmed or relatively unharmed. Call 911 or have someone nearby do it. Get the name and address of the person you collided with along with the make and model of their car and their insurance information. Get the names and numbers of witnesses and get the police report number. As soon as you are able, write down how the crash happened and be sure to save any damaged clothing or bicycle parts.

Accidents happen. They can be the fault of the cyclist or the motorist. These are just some of the ways that a cyclist can avoid personal injury. Always wear a helmet, follow the rules of the road for motorists and try to stay calm if an accident happens. Currently the accident mentioned above is under investigation but remember that the cyclist and the motorist are both responsible for riding safely on the roads.