Ted Rogers is quite a guy. I have had the good fortune to get to know him through tweets and his remarkable blog, BikinginLA. If you are a bicycle enthusiast you most likely already read his blog. If not, it is your lucky day. I am turning you on to the coolest and incredibly informative “must read” for the cyclist.
I trust you with my life. No, really.
Look, I don’t want to get maudlin here.
But I trust you.
It’s not like I know you. Or that we’re ever likely to meet. In fact, I have no real reason to think I can safely trust my life to you or anyone else.
It’s just that I don’t have a choice.
When I ride my bicycle, I’m putting my life in the hands of everyone I share the road with. I have no option but to count on you, and every other driver I encounter, to be sober and careful, avoid unnecessary distractions and obey the law.
And actually put down your cell phone and pay attention to the road ahead of you.
Granted, our entire traffic safety system is predicated on every road user doing exactly that. But as our nation’s traffic statistics make painfully clear, not everyone does. Which explains why 30,797 Americans died on the streets in 2009 alone.
That’s roughly 84 people every day. Eighty-four drivers, passengers, motorcyclists, bicyclists and pedestrians who kissed their loved ones goodbye, walked out the door and will never come home again.
Today, tomorrow, and the day after that. And every day that follows.
And that’s the good news.
Because as horrifying as those figures are, it’s still a big improvement over 2005, when an average of 107 people died on our roads everyday.
But 84 is still 84 too many. And quite frankly, I don’t want to be one of them.
Unlike most people I encounter on the road, I don’t have a glass and steel exoskeleton to protect me; no seat belts or airbags that will deploy in the event of a collision. The only protection I have is a bit of plastic and foam on my head, along with about an eighth of an inch of absorbent padding between my legs. Neither of which will do much good if I find myself intimately acquainted with the front end of a speeding car, truck or SUV.
But let’s consider that helmet for a moment.
I never ride without one, not since my sister gave me my first one nearly 30 years ago after my first trip to the emergency room.
I’ve had four, by the way. Trips to the ER due to cycling injuries, that is; only one of which involved a motor vehicle. That adds up to three broken arms and one case of head-to-toe road rash, along with a traumatic brain injury and massive blood loss that put me in the ICU overnight.
That last one occurred a few years back when I took a serious spill on the beachfront bike path above Santa Monica. I woke up several minutes later to a lifeguard placing an oxygen mask on my face and asking if I knew where I was, with no memory of how I got there, then or now.
But at least I woke up.
And that’s exactly what bike helmets are for. They’re designed to provide full protection against head injuries at an impact speed of up to 12.5 mph, and partial protection at impacts up to 20 mph.
Now compare that with the 30 – 45 mph speed limit on most Southern California streets — not to mention the extra 5 – 15 miles per hour most local drivers add onto that when they don’t see a cop around.
Not you, of course. But all those other guys, right?
In other words, in most collisions, even the most expensive bike helmet provides little more protection than a Brooklyn Dodgers baseball cap. If you can find one.
They also do nothing to prevent trauma to any other part of the body. It’s a constant source of consternation for cyclists that the press invariably notes whether an injured cyclist was wearing a helmet. If a bike is hit by truck travelling at 70 mph, whether or not the rider was wearing a helmet has little more relevance than whether he or she was wearing a charm bracelet.
Which means that the best way for a cyclist to survive a collision is not to have one.
And that’s where you come in.
You see, in over three decades of cycling, I’ve learned to ride defensively. I watch the road ahead of me and prepare well in advance for any potential threats I see. I position myself in the road where I’m most visible, and make a point of staying out of the door zone — that three foot space next to parked cars where cyclists are vulnerable to getting hit by a car door that could knock them over or force them to swerve into traffic with no warning.
I signal for turns whenever I can do so safely, bearing in mind that there are times when I need both hands planted firmly on the handlebars. And even though simple observation suggests that puts me among a small minority of road users, on two wheels or four.
I also stop for stop lights — yes, some of us actually do; most cyclists do, in fact. You’re just more likely to notice the relative handful who don’t. I even observe stop signs, at least to the same degree that most drivers do around here; slowing to a near stop before proceeding with the right-of-way.
Most importantly, I always obey the right-of-way, just as I would when I’m driving. And I try to make eye contact with any drivers who might cross my path; if I can’t, I have to assume they don’t see me and that it’s not safe to cross the intersection — whether or not it’s my turn.
And yes, I know that not every cyclist does those things. Just as not every driver obeys the law or operates his or her vehicle safely.
But here’s the surprising thing.
The truth is that collisions are actually hard to have. If you obey the law, pass and turn safely, and pay attention to the road in front of you — and I do the same — it’s virtually impossible to come in contact with one another.
That’s why, if you’ve noticed, I don’t use the word accident to describe a wreck. Because very few accidents actually are. In order to have one, someone has to do something stupid, careless or illegal to cause it.
And that’s why I have trust you.
Because I can only control what I do on the road. The rest is your hands.
And I’m counting on you to make sure we both get home safely.