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Bicycles and cars can get along

September 30, 2010|By JAMIE MARIE MARRANCA / Panhandle Pedalers (W.Va.) Cycling Club member

Recently, two bicyclists were killed in accidents involving vehicles within the Washington, D.C., metro area.

But there has been little follow-up information to give readers an accurate picture of what happened, who was at fault, and how to prevent similar incidents.

The newspaper articles were written in a way that suggested the cyclists were at fault - and the motorists were victims of someone else's lack of common sense. While this may be the case in some instances, there are things both motorists and cyclists should keep in mind while sharing the roads.

Cyclists in the area frequently deal with drivers who either don't know the laws or don't care about them. Aggressive drivers do not give clearance when they pass and have hit cyclists with their side mirrors. Others throw garbage or objects out the window toward cyclists, yell vulgarities or loudly rev their engines as they pass.

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There are drivers who are unwilling to wait a few seconds longer at a stop sign so that oncoming traffic - including cyclists - can safely pass through the intersection. Many drivers don't seem to realize that bicycles aren't allowed on sidewalks. However, just as there are inconsiderate drivers, there are inconsiderate cyclists, too.

Occasionally a cyclist will ride through a stop sign or red light instead of yielding the right of way, or ride in the middle of the road instead of toward the white line, or ride on the wrong side of the road.

Bicyclists have the same right to be on any road as a motorist. They must obey the same traffic rules and posted signs. Cyclists should ride single file, especially on busy roads. On less-traveled back roads, cyclists tend to group up to talk with each other, but should always return to single file for passing traffic.

No matter how you choose to travel, everyone on the road should use common sense. Just as motorists are required to turn on headlights at dusk or while using windshield wipers during rain, cyclists should always wear helmets, use lights or blinkers if riding in the dark and wear bright or reflective clothing.

If you look closely at many of our local roads in the Eastern Panhandle, they aren't exactly the cleanest, widest or smoothest surfaces you'll ever drive on. Many of our roads do not have a shoulder - and if they do, it's cluttered with garbage, broken car parts, glass, dead animals or rocks.

Though even a small sedan has large enough tires to handle running over much of this debris, most drivers would choose not to drive their vehicle in these areas. Bicycle tires are far smaller and thinner than vehicle tires, so cyclists can't be blamed for not wanting to ride along debris-filled shoulders.

Furthermore, our area also has many hills and blind curves that everyone should navigate safely. All too often, hurried drivers take hills and turns too fast. While cyclists don't have the ability to speed up or slow down as quickly as cars and don't have electric turn signals, they do have the ability to use hand signs to signal safe turns and signal to following vehicles that there is no oncoming traffic and it is safe to pass.

Not only is cycling here to stay, it will gain momentum and participants with time. Even so, safety on the roads will not be hard to maintain as long as both cyclists and motorists follow the laws and maintain respect for each other.

The Panhandle Pedalers Cycling Club (panhandlepedalers.com) was formed in 2008 for cycling enthusiasts who want to enjoy the Eastern Panhandle's outdoor surroundings. PPCC strives to teach its members the rules of the road, to apply safety habits in all of its rides, and to use common sense when cycling.

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