Obeying traffic laws will make Santa Cruz County roads safer for cyclists

The Santa Cruz community may have gotten a silver medal on the League of American Bicyclists' list of Bicycle Friendly Communities, but riding a bike around the county seems to be getting more dangerous, according to statistics from the California Highway Patrol's Aptos office. The league ranked more than 30 towns in the state and based Santa Cruz's grade on engineering, education and encouragement. Five cities, including Santa Barbara and Sacramento, shared Santa Cruz's silver status. Davis and San Francisco were the only two cities to get the highest ranking of platinum. Read the full report at http://www.bikeleague.org/programs/bicyclefriendlyamerica/. While the city is getting accolades, riding around the county can be like taking your life into your own hands the moment you set foot to pedal. In 2011, the CHP logged 69 bike-car crashes in unincorporated parts of the county, with 61 causing injuries. There was one fatality. That's nearly double the 36 such collisions in 2007, which resulted in 29 injuries and no deaths. Who's at fault? Street Smarts routinely gets emails from drivers bad mouthing cyclists for not obeying traffic laws, such as stopping at traffic signals and stop signs. Emails also come from cyclists admonishing motorists for not realizing they are at the wheel of a deadly weapon when they fail to stop while making right turns at stop signs and red lights or provide three feet clearance when passing on the left. The figures from the CHP show both sides cause traffic collisions. Of the 69 bike-car collisions last year, the agency ruled that 37 of the crashes were caused by the cyclist. In 2010, there were 70 reports of automobiles and cyclists mixing it up -- 39 were due to rider error. For 2009, 33 of the 51 crashes were the cyclists' fault. And in 2008, the lowest year out of the five year snapshot, 12 of 20 collisions occurred because the cyclist broke the rules. Meanwhile, in 2007, 29 of the 36 crashes were caused by bike riders, the CHP said. Creating safer roads How do we reduce those crash numbers? Obey traffic laws. The California Driver Handbook has sections on traffic laws that pertain to cyclists, as well as how motorists must conduct themselves when they encounter bike riders. Other sources of information about traffic laws include the Community Traffic Safety Coalition, which teaches monthly Bike Traffic School workshops aimed at educating cyclists about traffic laws and road safety. Meanwhile, while drivers of any age can sign up for AARP driving courses, the CHP offers Start Smart, a class geared specifically to teens and their families about safe driver practices.
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