Bike safety: Motorists, cyclists share rights and responsibilities of road

by Christopher Kratzer and Kimberly L. Wright
Air University Public Affairs

5/4/2012 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- As warmer weather arrives, taking the bike for a ride around base seems like a pleasant prospect. The increase of two-wheel additions to roadways requires motorists and cyclists alike to practice caution.

While cyclists on base can ride their bikes on any roadway, they must follow the same traffic laws as motorists in addition to special regulations for bikers, according to Mark Garner, the base ground safety officer. Following these rules can mean the difference between life and death.

According to Garner, 630 cyclists were killed in 2009, accounting for 2 percent of traffic fatalities with more than 51,000 injured.

The base has several regulations cyclists must follow. They must wear an approved helmet, wear reflective vests at night, and equip their bikes with a front white light and rear reflector for night riding.

William Whitman often bikes from his home in Prattville via the Alabama River Parkway to work at the Electronic Systems Center in Gunter.

He finds motorists, for the most part, cooperative. "Automobile drivers are often very courteous, but there are some that don't want to share the road or view cyclists as less than human and should not be on the roadways," he said.

Whitman encourages motorists to remember cyclists have the right to use the roadway, too, as stated in Alabama law.

"Cyclists are people with families and (are) vulnerable (when riding.) ... (They) have a right to be on the roads like any other user," he said. "The motorist is the one with the responsibility to pay attention and pass safely, but like any time you're in your car, use common sense, be situationally aware, don't be distracted, don't be aggressive, remain calm. A few seconds of inconvenience is not worth the risk of killing someone or being emotionally agitated."

Commuting via bike helps him stay in shape, saves money and offers him respite from the workaday world.

"I can do my training for racing along with commuting at the same time," Whitman said. "I save a lot of money since my bike gets infinite miles per gallon. ... It helps me lose weight, improves my mood and reduces stress."

However, Whitman does have logistical concerns with which to deal, as cycling adds 25 minutes to the commute. Plus, adverse weather conditions and motorists can make the commute challenging.

He advises those interested in commuting via bike to start out slowly, build endurance and keep spare clothes and food at work.

Lt. Cmdr. Lawrence Robinson, an ACSC student, bikes to Maxwell from downtown. He advises cyclists to set up their bikes with bags, lights and rain gear to prepare for adverse weather.

"That way, if you get caught by a shower, you have the equipment on hand to deal with it," he said.

Frank Mileto, distance learning manager at the Barnes Center for Enlisted Education, commutes three times a week to Maxwell and Gunter. He said mirrors to watch oncoming traffic and maintaining visibility are key to staying safe. "I haven't had any major accidents so far but a lot of near misses," he said.

Whitman encourages cyclists to take the time to enjoy the world. "You'll see the world in a different way than going past it at 70 mph," he said. "The birds chirp, the bees buzz, cows moo, the grass smells grassy and you are part of life and living it, not just passing it by in a steel enclosure."

While base personnel may ride their bikes to work or down the street, another large population also rides these two wheelers-children.

An estimated 27.7 million children ride bikes, according to, an organization that seeks to prevent childhood injuries.

"Bikes are associated with more childhood injuries than any other consumer product except automobiles," according to the website. "Sadly, child bicycling deaths increase 45 percent above the annual monthly average in the summer."

The website offers tips on helmet and bike fit as well as safety videos to help protect children.