Sussex County Delaware

Use Your Head
When Bicycling
Sussex Snapshots -- July 8, 2003

SC Online Editor

NOTE: Kerin Magill is Content Editor of Sussex County Online. Her column, "Sussex Snapshots", appears each Thursday on this site.

Kerin Magill, Sussex County Online

It never ceases to amaze me.

Every year, I shake my head in wonder.

The behavior of some people on bicycles, particularly in the resorts, is nothing short of incredible. Not to mention extremely dangerous.

Hey, I understand the vacation mentality -- I used to vacation at the beach, too. You tend to think you don't have to worry about rules when you're on vacation. But when bicyclists don't obey the rules of the road, they're putting their lives -- and those of others -- on the line.

Here's an example: The rule is that when you're on a bike, you should ride WITH traffic. You may be thinking, "Hey, what's the difference?" If so, then I'm willing to bet you've never had the nerve-jangling experience of being in a car, getting ready to pull out from a cross street, and having a bike (or bikes) dart in front of you from the opposite direction of traffic. Once you've had that happen to you, you'll understand -- trust me. It's amazing more people aren't seriously hurt or killed because someone on a bike ignored this little rule. I've lost count of exactly how many near-misses I've seen -- and accidents I've reported on.

Then there are the folks who think stop signs and stop lights are only for vehicles with four wheels and a motor. PLEASE obey traffic signals when you're on a bike! This is particularly important at night and at other times when visibility is less than perfect. If nothing else, it'll save you from an ugly encounter with a cheesed-off motorist -- having to slam on your breaks to avoid hitting a zooming bicycle is a sure recipe for a big ol' plate of road rage.

This isn't rocket science, folks. There's a publication put out by the Delaware Bicycle Council called "Delaware's Bicycle Driver's Manual for Kids." There are five main points: Be Responsible; Be Visible; Be Predictable; Be Defensive; and Be Equipped -- Wear a Helmet. "All vehicle drivers, INCLUDING bicycle drivers, follow the same rules of the road," the manual says. Like I said, this ain't rocket science.

You won't find this in the Kids' Manual, but here it is: Please, parents, if you wouldn't let your children ride alone beside a major highway at home (and I assume most parents with brains would not), PLEASE don't send them out on Route 1 by themselves! Every year, I see groups of little kids -- I'm talking barely elementary school age -- riding along the highway with no apparent adult supervision. As far as I'm concerned, you might as well throw the kids into the middle of the highway in front of an oncoming truck.

And while we're on the subject of where to ride, here's another note to bicyclists: Please check out conditions on a road BEFORE you bring your entire family and your dog out there for a mid-day ride. After living here for seven years, I can tell you I would not ride a bike on Route 26 in the summertime if my life depended on it. I've seen bike vs. vehicle accidents there that would give you nightmares. Any busy road with no shoulders (and there are plenty of them around here!) is no place for a bicycle.

Each year, about 150 people are injured in bicycle accidents in Delaware and two or three are killed. Statistically, three out of every four bicycle fatalities involved bicyclists who were not wearing helmets. So that's the last part of our little lesson today: HELMETS SAVE LIVES.

Under Delaware law, every child under 16 is required to wear a bike helmet -- even if they are riding in a child seat. Look at it this way: If you break your arm, the doctor will put it in a cast and in six to 10 weeks, you'll be as good as new. If you break your head, you may be permanently injured or killed. So parents, how about setting a good example for your kids and donning your own bike helmets? It's a great way to "use your head" when biking.

There. I feel better. Thanks for listening.

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