San Francisco is a cyclist’s city . . . but that doesn’t mean bicycling is totally safe here. More bikes on the roads may in fact lead to more bicycle accidents. But you don’t have to become a statistic. Instead you have to take your safety into your own hands. Why? Because in over half of the automobile-related bicycle accidents in San Francisco the driver was found to be at fault for the crash. It’s absolutely essential that you know how not to ride a bicycle in San Francisco.
If you’re over 18 there’s no law that says you have to wear a helmet while on your bike. And I get why many people don’t. They’re uncomfortable. They’re unstylish. They can be expensive. The freedom of having the breeze blow through your hair… ok, I digress. Keep in mind head injuries are the leading cause of death and long-term disability in bicycle accidents in San Francisco. Because of the way bikes are designed (top heavy) cyclists often land head first when they hit the asphalt. Add speed to the weight of a falling body and you have a tremendous amount of force coming to bear on your fragile skull.
So while they may mess up your hair, bicycle helmets are designed to take the brunt of the force in the event of a crash. This keeps your brain safe. Always wear one. Always.
Trusting the Sovereignty of Bike Lanes
Bike lanes are—of course—designed for bike travel. However, you cannot guarantee your own safety even when you ride between those lines. In fact, failure to yield is one of the most common types of bicycle accident in San Francisco. These accidents occur when drivers fail to yield the road to bicyclists in bike lanes, making right or left turns through the lane, striking the cyclists.
Another less common—but more feared—type of bicycle accident involves parked cars near bike lanes. Dooring, or striking a moving cyclist with an open door, represents a mere fraction of bicycle accidents in San Francisco but can lead to some of the most severe injuries. Unfortunately, most bike lanes put cyclists right in the path of opening doors.
You have to be vigilant—even when you’re in a bike lane—and watch all the traffic and parked cars around you.
Riding Against Traffic
You see this every day on San Francisco streets. It’s called salmoning (swimming upstream) by bicycle enthusiast. Riders usually do this to either get to wear they’re going quicker or because they don’t know any better. The law treats bicycles just like any other vehicle and the road: operators must obey all traffic laws and traffic flow patterns. Riding against traffic is not only unsafe, it’s illegal.
Riding On Sidewalks
Riding on sidewalks is fine for children. That’s where they should be while they’re just learning to get their wheel under them. But if you’re over the age of 13 don’t do it. It’s illegal. It can also be deadly. Just as careless drivers cause severe injuries to cyclists, careless cyclists can injure and even kill pedestrians on the sidewalk. So leave the sidewalks to foot traffic and claim the travel lane that’s rightly yours.
Passing on the Right
It’s tempting to do—especially since your bike is a lot smaller than a car and will actually squeeze into that tight space at the right of the lane. But the law says cyclists must always pass (cars and other cyclists) on the left. That can be easier said than done but remember to be wary, be visible, and be vocal if you need to be in order to claim the travel lane you deserve.
Idaho Stops are when a cyclist treats a stop sign as if it were a yield and merely slows before proceeding through the intersection rather than stopping. These are still illegal in California—even though they may be safer. A recent change to the law that would have made Idaho Stops the lowest priority on SFPD’s hit list failed. That’s not going to stop cyclists from performing them. But, as San Francisco bicycle accident attorney, I cannot advocate breaking the law. Whenever you come to a stop sign, make sure that the intersection is clear before proceeding and ensure that all the drivers in the vicinity see you.
Your Safety is Your Responsibility
When you’re on a bicycle, your safety always depends on you. Even if the law is on your side and even if you think you’ve done everything you can to stay safe (riding properly, using lights, staying alert) traffic always represents a clear and present danger. But you can stack the deck in your favor by having proper safety gear, knowing the rules of the road, and always being wary and watchful.
If you are injured in a crash, fill out this short form to see if you may be entitled to financial compensation from the at fault driver. To speak with an experienced San Francisco bicycle accident lawyer, call (415) 413-0033 today.