AAA Bike Safety

The Sept/Oct issue of American Bicyclist has a feature article, “Bringing Bicycling into the Mix: The New AAA” (not yet on the LAB website) consisting of an interview with Rhonda L. Markos, a Traffic Safety Specialist with AAA. She acknowledges that “AAA’s involvement in bicycle safety has targeted predominantly school-aged children.” I kept waiting for the part where she says that AAA will partner with the LAB to improve motorist awareness of bicyclists’ rights (in addition to their customary wagging of  fingers at naughty child cyclists). The only relevant comment is, “we promote sharing the road through community events and driver training classes. We also get the word out via club publications and social media.”  The AAA’s website provides this bike safety information, not specifically directed at children, with my comments in brackets on the more interesting bulleted points:

“Hundreds of cyclists are killed, and thousands injured, each year while navigating the nation’s roadways. Bicycle riders can help prevent crashes by following a few basic rules of the road:

  • Always wear an approved bicycle safety helmet to protect your head from serious injury when riding. [Good advice, but not a law for adults anywhere, and not something that will “help prevent crashes.”]
  • When riding with others, form a single line, one bike length apart, on the right–hand side of the roadway. [Only three states require single-file riding in most circumstances. While this says ‘right-hand side of the roadway’, it could easily be read as the right edge of the roadway, given that there’s no statement anywhere about the importance of moving left to avoid hazards, keep away from right turning vehicles, or to get into position for a left turn.]
  • Walk your bike across busy roads and intersections. [Not the law anywhere, not likely to improve safety, and definitely not a mobility improvement.]
  • Use hand signals to show others that you are stopping or making a turn. [But how do you make a safe left turn?]
  • Help other drivers to see you. Wear light or brightly colored clothing. [It is the law to have a headlight at night. They never mentioned this anywhere in the list.]
  • On streets where cars are parked, watch for car doors opening into the roadways. [This assumes you will be riding in the door zone.]
  • Avoid riding after dark or if the weather is bad. All cyclists are at risk during the hours of darkness. [A definite cramp on your mobility. You won’t be able to cycle home from work much of the year. Again no mention of the required lights.]
  • Give cars and pedestrians the right–of–way. It’s an act of courtesy, and it’s safer, too. [Yes, the most important rule: yield to cars at all times.]

I hope the League will take measures to improve the quality of information distributed by AAA.

It turns out that at least some of the AAA’s clubs provide ‘bike safety’ information directed at motorists. For example, the Mid-Atlantic club offers this advice:

Sharing the Road – How We All Can Make a Difference

Each year, there are more than a half-million collisions between motor vehicles and bicycles in the United States. Many of these incidents are the result of motorist, failing to properly yield to bicyclists. The following safety tips can make a difference:

  • Motorists need to increase their awareness of bicyclists when making turns and remember to look for bicyclists when traveling in a straight line. [Unclear and not specific enough in terms of right hook and left cross.]
  • Check for bicyclists along the edge of the traffic lane before opening car doors so you do not cause a collision when exiting your vehicle. [Fine, but should also mention that safe bicyclists ride out of range of opening doors.]
  • Allow three feet of passing space between your car and the cyclist. Tailgating or honking can startle or fluster a bicyclist, causing them to swerve further into the driving lane. [Fine, except that 3 feet is insufficient if you are going fast or driving a truck.]
  • Be patient. Remember, cyclists are moving under their own power and can’t be expected to go the same speed as cars. [And you might have to wait before it is safe to pass.]
  • Pay special attention to blind spots. Due to their size and the location of bike lanes, bikes can often get lost in a car’s blind spot, so double check before changing lanes, making right-hand turns or before opening your car door on the traffic side when parked. [This seems to assume you will be turning right while leaving room for a bicyclist to pass on your right, rather than merging right before turning, as required. ]
  • Bicyclists also should use bike paths and always watch for turning and parked motor vehicles. [Yes, staying off the road is the best way to share it.]
  • Bicyclists should be encouraged to clearly communicate their intentions to motorists by using proper turn signals. [And use the proper lane position and yield before moving across the road.]
  • Wearing helmets, visible clothing and using bike paths when available are key factors to ensuring a safe, pleasurable biking adventure. [Again with the bike paths — but still no mention of lights.]


  1. The only way to ensure safe travel is for everyone to know and obey the laws and to learn to travel responsibly. In Cambridge MA, our educational project helps people get over that sense of entitlement; whether behind the wheel, at the handle bars, or a pied at a crosswalk.
    And the 4th phase is enhanced enforcement, with higher ticket fines.

  2. “Bicyclists also should use bike paths…” and “Staying off the road is the best way to share it” are the two most ignorant statements in the article. What I’ve learned is that the people who think cyclists should use bike paths are the same people who allow their toddlers to sit in the middle of the bike path and play with sticks while they’re standing in the path with their stroller chatting with a friend. They’re the people who enjoy using the bike path to walk in groups of 3 or for spread out across the path without looking behind them or moving over for cyclists. They’re the same people who allow their dogs to dart back and forth on both sides of the trail.

    What do you people want from us? Cyclists put ourselves on the roads to keep your toddler and your dog and your family from being in danger of us barreling down the bike path at 20 mph. You don’t want us on the bike path. We don’t belong there because of the way people choose to use the path. And, you don’t want us on the road because we’re an “inconvenience” there too. Would you be satisfied if you were finally just able to hit all of us with your cars and kill us all??

  3. Shared use paths posed a higher risk of crashes to cyclists than the roadways. Studies support a factor of at least 2.5 times higher risk (when trail riding is excluded.)

    In a recent study of accidents on three central CT greenways (converted rail right of ways), performed by student of the University of CT, the accident rate for pedestrians, cyclists, and inline skaters was five times that rate of accidents for motorists in the state based on the miles traveled. Based on the time of travel exposure, I calculated a crash rate for cyclists eight times that CT motorists

    Perhaps even more significantly, but rarely mentioned, are the consequences of an accident on a shared use path. Invariably the bigger, heavier, faster cyclist will be held responsible for an accident. If a child or dog should dart into the roadway in the path of a vehicle, the blame is placed on the dog, child. On a shared use path, the vehicle operator (cyclist) will likely be blamed regardless of speed and care of the cyclist.

    The majority of cycling accidents occur not mid block, but at intersections. A shared use path paralleling a roadway provides no benefit between intersections, and more than likely increases the risk when the paths cross intersecting streets.

  4. The women’s movement a few years ago established a priority of changing the vernacular to help expedite change. We can do use the same path.

    Use drive instead of ride when referring to the operation of a bicycle. It will help establish us as vehicle operators.

    Do no use accident when referring to a collision or crash. Accidents are unpreventable. Collisions and crashes are the result of mistakes or violations of the rules of vehicular operation. They are very preventable.

    Just a start on the path of change. Other ideas?

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