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Time for Bicyclists To Be Held Accountable?

I love to ride a bike.

Riding a bike is great exercise, a wonderful leisurely activity and excellent for your health ... except when the rider has sub-standard cycling skills or is not doing his best to “share the road.” My biggest fear is hitting a cyclist who is not following the rules of the road, which happens way too often. I stop at a stop sign, then accelerate and whoosh - as I’m getting ready to turn, a bike flies past unaware of my acceleration. In Georgetown it’s a daily occurrence.

Accidents happen on the road when someone does something unexpected. We need better education so that motorists and cyclists know what the laws and expectations are. For instance, the“Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) last month posted nine rectangular signs stating "Bicycles May Use Full Lane.” SHA plans to post similar signs on 18 state highways in Montgomery and Prince George's counties.”

The signs "warn motorists that bicycles may be operating anywhere within a traffic lane," according to SHA Administrator Melinda Peters.” The purpose - to ensure that drivers and cyclists have the same expectation.

As the commerce of Capital Bike Share and interest in cycling continues to grow, there are far more bicyclists on the roads than ever before. In fact, CBS promotes they have over 1,670 plus bikes at over 175 area locations. It's time for cyclists to be held accountable in the same way motorists are, for breaking the law, running stop signs, exceeding the speed limit and not giving pedestrians and other vehicles the right of way ... not to mention impeding the flow of traffic.

The varying levels of cyclists’ skills, from what you’d expect of the professional courier vs the novice bike renter - contribute to the problem. Lack of skills result in dangerous activity such as running stop signs, which in turn causes drivers to dodge cyclists, other drivers and oblivious pedestrians texting and listening to music ... all, a recipe for transportation disaster.

I’m shocked there aren’t more accidents. I propose that current laws be modified to require that cyclists be licensed, wear helmets and obey the same laws as automobile drivers, as appropriate. At the very least, cyclists should be required to complete a certain level of training to ride on city streets.

Out of curiosity I googled, “statistics on bike accidents.”

Here are a few recent bike accidents facts and statistics from the website of the Law Offices of Lewis and Tompkins:

• Each year, an estimated 67,000 cyclists visit an emergency room with a bicycle accident head injury.

• A biker not wearing a helmet is 14 times more likely to die in a bicycle accident.

• A bike rider is killed every six hours in the United States.

• The majority of people killed in bicycle accidents are male. The average age of a bike accident victim is 40.

• According to the National Survey of Bicyclist and Pedestrian Attitudes and Behavior, only 50 percent of cyclists wear their helmets occasionally and only 35 percent wear their helmets at all times.

• Three out of four fatal bicycle accidents involve deadly head injuries.

As bicycles become more and more popular out of the economic need or the desire to save energy and get fit, we need to place more responsibility on cyclists to become better trained on riding on city streets and more accountable for their own safety and the safety of others who may be adversely affected by their poor riding habits.

For information on acquiring the pocket guide to D.C. bike laws, visit DDOT.

Written by Janice Ockershausen, owner of Best Bark Media, a Georgetown business