City data shows that fatalities and serious injuries to pedestrians rise after daylight saving time ends and dusk settles earlier during the busy evening commute. It’s a sobering reminder to people who ride bicycles to follow essential tips for urban cycling safety after dark.
In announcing a “dusk and darkness” safety campaign aimed at educating the public and heightening enforcement of traffic laws in 2016 (r, city officials cited data from 2010 – 2014 showing increases in pedestrian fatalities and serious injuries immediately following sunset in early fall and winter. The New York City Department of Transportation says crashes that cause serious harm to pedestrians rise by almost 40 percent on fall and winter evenings compared to other seasons. [Update: The safety campaign is being reprised in ’17 with more advertising support and increased NYPD enforcement.]
Traffic safety and medical experts point to sudden earlier darkness and the human eye’s natural inability to adjust to diminishing light as culprits. For cyclists, moving through the city after dark, and sharing the streets with traffic, being as visible as possible is essential at this time of year. That means not only taking physical steps like wearing brighter clothing and using bike lights, but also following rules of the road intended to improve safety for all street users.
Here are 10 tips for urban cycling safety after dark:
- Be street legal: There’s a minimum legal requirement for visibility after dark. Cyclists are required by law to have a white light on the front of their bike and a red light on the back.
- Light up: Some people use daylight saving time as a reminder to change the batteries in their smoke detectors. Make another safety commitment by doing the same for your bike lights. Check now: Are your bike lights working? Do the batteries need replacement or do they need a USB charge? Is it time for an upgrade? Does a change in your typical commuting route require you to rethink your fall and winter safety game plan. BTW: Lights aren’t just for your bike. Clip-on models attach to your bag, clothes and helmet. Some apparel and helmets are designed with LED strips built in.
- Don’t get caught short: Sadly, New Yorkers have to take for granted that almost anything attached to a bike is a theft risk. Thus, many use removable lights. The only problem is that these are easily forgotten in a bag or on the kitchen counter or wherever. That’s why it’s a good idea to keep inexpensive single-LED lights on your bike at all times. Thieves are unlikely to notice or care, and you won’t ever have to face the fear of riding home in the dark without your “real” lights at hand.
- Wear hi-viz: Brightly colored clothes help announce your presence. Or choose from among an ever-wider variety of hi-viz outerwear for commuting. Additionally, look for reflective details, like pipping, patches or applied designs, that light up under headlights. Some apparel is constructed entirely of reflective materials or has reflective thread woven in.
- Think 360: Your front and back lights say “I’m here” to those in front and following behind. But what about cars approaching from the side? In addition to clothing with reflective details on sleeves or pant cuffs, you can improve lateral visibility with reflective beads that fit on your spokes, decals or tape applied to your bike frame or helmet, or if you prefer something more cosmic, a hub-mounted system that projects colorful light onto your spokes and rims.
- Choose well-lit routes: While quieter side streets with less traffic might be the way to go during daylight, these may not be well-endowed with street lights. Major roads might be the safer alternatives at night – if they’ve got bike lanes, especially protected ones. It’s not always possible, but where you can, choose the better-lit routes.
- Slow down: Sure, you love to push those pedals, and what New Yorker isn’t in a hurry to get some place? But reducing speed gives you more time to respond to changing conditions as darkness descends.
- Be predictable: Especially in fading light, holding a predictable line helps keep you in motorists’ sights. Avoid weaving in and out of lanes or riding against traffic.
- Signal your intentions: Use your hands, your voice and eye contact to communicate your intentions to motorists. And go big with your gestures! Some bike lights and helmets are now equipped with turn signals and brake lights, using handlebar mounted controllers or integrated cameras and accelerometers.
- Yield to pedestrians: In all circumstances. Just do.
You can take action to protect yourself by making yourself as visible as possible on the streets and following the rules of the road, for safety and peace of mind. After all, your commute should be a bright spot of your day, no matter what the season.
Readers: Do you make adjustments in your commute for the end of daylight saving time? Please share in comments below.
Photo: Becky Day