Five ways to boost bike safety (and make more people ditch their car for the saddle)

A rack of Citi Bike bicycles in New York City, N.Y.

A rack of Citi Bike bicycles in New York City, N.Y.  (REUTERS)

Years ago commuting via bicycle was reserved for relatively small and quiet European cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen, indeed many of us when picturing these cities will think of piles of bikes stacked up outside European cafés. But today biking is being encouraged as an alternative way of commuting in some of the worlds busiest and most popular cities like New York and London. It certainly is more popular than ever, but is it safe?

Many bicycle-sharing programs are now in full operation around the world, like New York’s Citi Bike that has over 500 stations and a daily ridership of over 25,000. Such initiatives make a lot of sense, given the majority of commute trips are under three miles, it’s certainly a healthier way of getting around, and biking reduces emissions and road wear.

Experts regularly debate bike safety statistics, and there are certainly schools of thought to suggest that whilst bike riding has many benefits to the rider, streets and the environment, there are serious safety concerns.

In the U.S. in 2013, there were 743 cyclists killed and an estimated 48,000 injured in motor vehicle accidents. Cycling injuries climbed 26 percent during the period of 2012 to 2015; there are of course more bikers on the road, but if biking continues to become more of a mainstream way of commuting, what needs to happen to improve bike safety and make more people more confident about ditching their car for the saddle?  Here are a few ideas:

1. Add more protected bike lanes. More and more protected bike lanes are being installed throughout cities all over the world. In NYC, there are close to 400 miles of bike lanes with more planned to come. These make people more comfortable with the idea of biking; for example when Columbus Avenue added its protected bike lane, it saw more than a 56 percent increase in bikers than before. Salt Lake City was inspired by the Dutch to be the first in the U.S. to implement protected intersections, which incorporate additional protected areas for bikes in front of cars, as well as bike-specific signaling.

2. Enforce helmets. This may seem obvious, but wearing a helmet when cycling is not a Federal U.S. law. States have been adopting their own laws around bikers wearing helmets since the late 1980s, but most are only limited to children under the age of 18. It’s irrelevant if the ride is a minute or an hour; accidents can happen anywhere! According to stats from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Fatality Analysis, only 17 percent of fatally injured cyclists were wearing a helmet, and many deaths were caused by severe injuries to the head.

3. Make bike road-safety courses mainstream. There are courses that teach safety techniques to bikers. For example in the U.K. the Department for Transport runs the ‘bikability’ program that promotes confidence and skills for riders. These should be more widely adopted, and for riders of all ages, not only children.

4. Signal correctly. When ready to make a turn, instead of asking traffic permission, the biker is informing traffic of their intent. It’s important to check over the shoulder with enough time before making the turn.

5. Adopt and utilize new technologies. Over the past year smart wearable technology has been emerging to improve bike safety. There have been a number of smart cycle helmets come to market that include features like LED turn signals. My company, RoadwareZ has developed the world’s first digital smart vest.  The vest includes features like automated LED turn signaling, vehicle warnings, and built-in microphone and communication system.

There certainly has been a surge in cycling across the globe, and this only looks likely to continue to increase.  But there must be the same pace by governments, communities and riders to ensure more bikers on the road, doesn’t result in more accidents. The right equipment, infrastructure, common sense, and new technologies will all ensure that this is not the case.

Yeshaya Krispin currently serves as Chief Innovation Officer of RoadwareZ Technologies, a company that develops smart wearable technology products.