Family health: As spring weather arrives, a bicylce safety refresher

Last Tuesday, was the day I believe Missoulians officially claimed the spring season. It was snowing, but it was a wet snow that left a fresh, clean fragrance in the air. You know, the kind of snow that would be gone by midmorning because the sun would stake claim over the frost and chill. I have to admit that I was feeling somewhat overwhelmed as I drove to work. It seemed that despite the snowfall everyone decided to ride their bike that day – they were everywhere.

What made it official was that as I was driving out of the parking lot that evening, at O’Dark Thirty, I had to brake suddenly for a bicyclist with no lights and dark clothing. As she passed, I squinted and noticed she had three dogs on leads and a baby in the carrier behind her.

Needless to say, it is not difficult to see what’s wrong when in the position of the observer. So how can we improve safety for cyclists and motorists in our city? We are aware that there is a risk for injury and hardship that could be significant. Prevention of injury is the goal. Education tells us how to be safe and what we should expect. We must practice and abide by standards and expectations set forth by general safety guidelines and the Montana/Missoula bicycle code.

Montana state and Missoula city code are summarized below:

  • The bicyclist is granted the same rights and duties of any other vehicle traveling on the road: stopping at red lights, going on green and yielding to pedestrians.
  • If going slower than the traffic, travel far to the right or use the bicycle lane if available.
  • Every bike should have a seat.
  • Free rides are not allowed. Please note it is against the law to hitch a ride by holding onto a bumper or door handle of a motorized vehicle.
  • Riding in the right lane is mandated unless making a left turn (use signal), passing another vehicle or object or when the right side of the road is unsafe.
  • Share the road. Ride single file.
  • Must not carry an object that requires both hands to hold while bicycling.
  • Missoula city mandates no cyclists greater than 15 years old should ride on sidewalks. However, if one does ride upon a sidewalk it is not allowed in a business district and cyclist must always yield to pedestrians.
  • For safety purposes, reflectors are required on pedals and rims of wheels.
  • Nighttime cyclists are required to use a lamp on the front that emits a light to at least 500 feet.
  • Law encourages a fluorescent orange flag be visible from the rear and at least 6 feet tall.
  • Last is a safety reminder. Helmets and rear view mirrors help reduce risk of injury.

This is Missoula, where we are encouraged to walk and ride! Take it easy out there.

Traci Jasnicki is a registered nurse and trauma coordinator at Community Medical Center.