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Editorial: Bikes, cycles mean safety first

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This message might be a bit late this year because of the unusually warm early spring, but the information is still valid. We are seeing an increase in both bike and motorcycle riders on our streets and highways.

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For motorists, it means we will again be sharing the road with bikes and motorcycles that we have not seen much of in the previous six months. The number of bike and motorcycle riders may be even more than usual with the high cost of gasoline.

There is some good news regarding fatal accidents in 2011. As far as automobiles are concerned, for the fourth consecutive year, Wisconsin in 2011 had fewer than 600 traffic deaths. The last time Wisconsin had fewer than 600 traffic fatalities for four years in a row was from 1924 to 1927.

Wisconsin ended 2011 with 569 traffic deaths, which is seven more than 2010, but 59 fewer than the previous five-year average, according to preliminary statistics from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT).

Another item of a positive nature was an approximately 18 percent reduction in motorcyclists' deaths--from 104 in 2010 to 85 in 2011.

But we have to remember, all of these deaths impacted thousands of people around our state. Authorities say most fatal crashes are caused by bad driving habits and irresponsible decisions. Many of those deaths could have been prevented.

The critical element for everyone traveling on the roads--be it two or four wheels--is for all to obey all traffic rules. It is especially important, however, for those on bikes or motorcycles. We've all heard the term "dead right." Obeying the law does not ensure the safety of anyone, but it is a step in the right direction.

We recommend all bicycle and motorcycle riders wear a helmet. Wisconsin does not have a law requiring motorcyclists or bicyclists to wear protective helmets, but statistics show those who do are much less likely to be killed than those who do not.

Even a non-fatal crash can be dangerous. A head injury can mean a brain injury. That's why it's so important to wear a helmet. Head injuries are the most common serious injury suffered by bicyclists.

A few other tips for bike riders:

--Be sure your equipment is well maintained.

--Use good lights and reflectors when traveling at times of darkness.

--Wear bright clothing.

--Use a rear view mirror attached to the helmet, glasses or handlebars.

--Obey the rules of the road as if you were driving a car. Stop at stop signs, red lights and signals before turning or changing lanes.

--Always ride on the right side of the road. Stay in single file as far to the right as practical. It's both dangerous and illegal to ride on the left side of a two-way highway.

--Be extremely cautious when traveling through intersections. Be aware of traffic around you and be prepared to brake quickly.

--Avoid traveling along the side of cars when passing through intersections--they may turn in front of you without warning.

--When riding in a business district, use caution when passing parked cars, as occupants may not see you when opening doors or pulling out of parking spaces.

--Keep your hands on the handlebars at all times. Riding with no hands does not permit a rider to stop or to avoid the ever present hazards--dogs, potholes, broken glass, cars, etc.

--Yield to all pedestrians.

Remember, your bicycle is a small, inconspicuous vehicle. It is not easily seen on crowded streets and will seldom attract attention on its own. At all times, do everything you can to make sure you are noticed.

And motorists, remember bicycles and motorcycles are vehicles. They belong on the road and deserve your attention. There is enough room for all modes of transportation on the streets and highways if everyone puts safety first and is willing to share the road and look out for the other guy.

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