Cyclists and motorists share the roadways day and night. Keeping a safe distance in the darkness is difficult, but proper lighting can mean the difference between life and death.
“Even though you have the right-of-way on a bicycle, it’s especially important to let other motorists know ‘Here I am, I’m on a bike. Please don’t hit me,’ ” said Officer Jim Jenkins of the Community Policing Unit of the Johnson City Police Department.
Equipping a bicycle with front and rear flashing lights, plus reflectors on wheels and clothing can save a nighttime biker from a fatal accident similar to what occurred Tuesday night on Tenn. Highway 36 when Gray resident Daniel P. Perkey was struck by a vehicle. The 36-year-old was reported to have no reflectors or lights on his bike at the time of the incident. Pedalcyclist crashes in Tennessee result in an average of seven deaths and more than 300 injuries per year, according to the Tennessee Department of Safety.
Since cyclists lack the protection a four-wheeled vehicle provides, their safety depends on knowing where approaching traffic is and how to avoid it.
“You have to keep your head on a swivel the whole time you’re on a bike,” Jenkins said. “You must constantly be aware of your surroundings.”
There are several ways riders and drivers can avoid one other. Road guard vests or shirts made of bright colors or reflective material work well to notify motorists of an oncoming biker. Mirrors are another add-on Terry Revette recommends to customers at The Bike Shop in north Johnson City.
“Riders need to know when someone is coming behind them,” he said. “That way, he or she can make room for the car to pass.”
Because state law requires three feet of space between a bicycle and a passing vehicle, Jenkins recommends that cyclists stay close to the shoulder or completely off the roadway if possible. Keeping a distance from drivers is most important in areas with multiple hills and little to no lighting.
When it comes to following through with safety suggestions, Revette doesn’t have much trouble getting customers to purchase the right gear.
“Most people come in here and safety is important to them so it’s not a tough sale,” he said.
Nighttime bicyclists can get the basics—a helmet, a set of lights for the front and rear of the bike, plus a mirror — for under $100, according to Revette. In fact, city ordinance 15-1514 requires cyclists to be equipped with a white light on the front of the bicycle that is visible from at least 500 feet and another red or amber light or reflector visible from the rear.
Following the rules can decrease the chances of a vehicle-bike crash, but so can riding in numbers. Jenkins, who often takes part in JCPD bike patrols, says fellow officers always ride with a partner. If traveling solo is a must, a charged cell phone, plenty of water and whistle should go along, too.
Even though Jenkins describes Johnson City as a “bike-friendly city,” with several special bicycle lanes on Oakland Avenue, State of Franklin Road, near People’s Street and through Boones Creek, a little misunderstanding still may exist between all roadway users.
“A lot of bicyclists don’t get the respect they should,” he said. “They do have the right-of-way just like someone in a car does, but there’s also bike etiquette. Just because you have the right-of-way doesn’t mean you’ll win the laws of physics. Exercise some type of etiquette so you can be a responsible biker for other motorists.”
Other city ordinances pertaining to bicycles say that no one over the age of 16 can operate a bicycle on a local sidewalk unless the person is supervising a child while riding; and bikes must be equipped with some type of bell or device that is capable of giving a signal audible for at least 100 feet. Tennessee law requires anyone under 16 years old to wear a helmet when riding on a state roadway.