by Greg Gargs Allard

This article was written in 2011 when I noticed a number of near bike collisions around the campus of the University of Florida. Insite magazine did not publish it but after some recent bike accidents involving people I know, including one that was fatal and another with serious injuries, I decided to publish this in the virtual pages of Tune Groover. As my dad used to say before I went out, “The life you save might be your own.”

In my lifetime, I have known a number of friends and acquaintances who have died while riding their bike – even more have been injured.

As a child, I was involved in a few accidents myself. Once when I was driving down a hill and pulling into a driveway at the relative high speed, my front brake loosened and tangling in my front-tire spokes, stopped the forward movement of my bike and threw me forward and over the handle bars while I was delivering newspapers. Fortunately for me, it was the fall time and I actually landed in a big pile of leaves.

For 22-year-old Manjula Henderson, it was a typical night riding her yellow Schwinn bike from one friend’s house to another. But that night, one lapse in her judgment almost proved fatal when Henderson struck a car while crossing NW 13th Street.

“I thought taking a quick glance left and right would be enough before I attempted to cross over 13th Street,” Henderson said. “Unfortunately, I was wrong.”

Henderson’s bike t-boned a car going 30 mph, tossing her off her bike and landing her head-first on the street. She was not wearing a helmet.

Fortunately for her, she was biking with a friend who called an ambulance immediately. Within 45 minutes, she was being operated on at Shands Hospital for head trauma. If her friend had not been there, she might not have lived to tell her story.

When it comes to do’s and don’ts, riding tandem with a friend is certainly something that is recommended when riding a bike.  Obeying all traffic laws and always wearing a helmet are also essential to bike safety. According to the University of Florida Police Department, there have been 23 accidents reports filed on campus so far in 2011 involving bicycles. Although most of the injuries have been minor, about 25 percent of them have caused head injuries to the biker.

Manjula’s brother, Nam Henderson, 30, went out and bought himself a helmet the day after his sister’s accident.

“It was something I always knew that I should do but due to considerations to style and the Florida heat, I never did,” Nam Henderson said.

“A large part of the accident is that she ran a red light,” he said. “You can’t just be coming up to the light and see no cars and just plow through— even if you’re not going to wait for the change of light, you should at least stop completely and look both ways.”

Florida law goes even a step further—you are required to wait. Section 316.075 specifically states that bikers have to follow all the rules that pedestrians follow or they are breaking the law. They might also be breaking their necks.

Another problem is that motorists are often not aware of bike lanes and that bikers have the right of way in almost every situation. Of the 12 accidents that have occurred between motorists and bikers on campus in 2011, all but three have been the motorist’s fault.

“The biggest issues are that bicyclists are not following traffic laws and turning vehicles are not checking side view mirrors for bike lanes,” Sgt. Kristy Maculan of the UFPD Community Services Division said.

“It’s a big enough problem that anytime we register bikes we give them a pamphlet,” she said.

According to that pamphlet, entitled “Bicycles Are Vehicles,” there are many other things to consider while operating your bicycle also like not texting while you ride and making sure that at least one of your hands is on a handle bar at all times.  Another law to consider is that bicyclists can only have one earphone in their ears at any given time.

The UFPD has worked hard enforcing the law on campus and as of August 19 had already issued 1,000 citations to bikers for breaking traffic laws. Fortunately so far, there have been no fatalities on campus involving any of the 304 total accidents that have been reported.

But it stands to reason that there are more accidents on campus than are reported. Sometimes personal information is just exchanged and no report is filed and at other times, the police are not informed.

Manjula Henderson was lucky in many ways. After two more operations in the course of a month and another week in rehab, she was able to completely recover, return to school in three months and graduate within another year.

“Needless to say,” Henderson said, “I feel I must now advocate bike safety, which includes but is not limited to wearing a helmet, having sufficient lights posted on your bike and always adhering to traffic laws.”

Bike Safety Do’s

Always wear a good fitting helmet

Select routes you feel confident driving on

Carry a mobile phone for emergencies but don’t use it while riding.

If you are riding 30 minutes before dark or after sunrise, a white headlight and rear reflectors increase visibility. Wear reflective clothing whenever possible.

Avoid riding in severe weather conditions.

Inspect your bike before driving

Obey all traffic laws.

Drive defensively. Assume that each driver you encounter will be distracted or make a mistake and drive accordingly.

Ride with the traffic.

Bike Safety Do Nots

Never ride against traffic.

Do not weave in and out of stalled traffic or parked cars.

Do not talk on the cell phone while riding.

Do not text and ride.

Ride your bike slow enough around any type of traffic to give yourself a better chance to make up for other people’s mistakes.

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