Switching from car to bike? Take a moment to think about safety

Bicycle accidents happen all too often. Here's how you can stay safe.

In many ways, Los Angeles is a drivers' city. Car culture is a big deal, and the city's layout encourages using a car to get from point A to point B.

But, as in the rest of the country, trends are changing. Whether it's because of cost, environmental concerns, or just plain convenience, people in Los Angeles are driving less than they used to.

In many cases, driving gets replaced by riding a bike. While biking does have a lot of benefits, it also carries some risks. Read on to learn more about how to stay safe on your bike, and what to do in the unfortunate event that you or someone you love is involved in a collision with a motor vehicle.

As trends change, California lags on bicycle safety

According to a 2014 report from the Governors Highway Safety Association, California leads the nation in bicycle accident fatalities. Between 2010 and 2012, 338 cyclists in California died as a result of collisions with a motor vehicle. Nationwide, cyclist fatalities went up by 16 percent during that same period, while other motor vehicle accident deaths only increased by 1 percent.

The demographics behind these accidents are telling. In past decades, most people killed on their bikes were children. In the GHSA study, however, 84 percent of those killed in bicycle accidents were adults over age 20, which signals a change in attitude from "bike as toy" to "bike as viable commuter alternative."

How to stay safe

Many cyclist injuries and fatalities are caused by negligence on the part of a motor vehicle driver. While there's nothing you can to stop someone else from making a bad decision, there are steps you can take to make a collision less likely to happen:

  • Stay sober: Riding your bike is not a safe alternative to drunk driving. If you've been drinking, find another way to get where you need to go. Almost a third of bicycle fatalities among people over 16 involve cyclists with elevated blood alcohol levels.

  • Be visible: Ride where drivers can see you. You can (and should) ride on the road with traffic, and not on the sidewalk. Try to remain as far to the right as practical, in order to let traffic proceed around you. At night, wear brightly colored clothing and attach lights to the front and back of your bicycle. Just like you wouldn't drive around after dark with your headlights off, you should never ride a bike at night if it doesn't have working lights.

  • Be predictable: Don't make a driver guess what you're about to do next. Signal every turn and stop. Remember - bicyclists have to follow the same traffic laws as drivers do, and this includes stopping at every stop sign and red light. In addition, try to ride in a straight line and avoid trying to cut through traffic by weaving through stopped cars.

  • Stay alert: When you're biking, focus on the task ahead of you. Distractions are even more dangerous on a bike since you don't only have to watch out for other vehicles, but also potholes and other obstacles that could send you flying over your handlebars. Keep your earbuds out and save the music and phone calls for when you've arrived at your destination.

If you or a loved one does get into an accident with a motor vehicle, know that help is available. If the collision was caused by the driver's negligence, California law gives you the right to pursue compensation for the losses you incur. This could include things like medical bills, lost wages and pain and suffering.

When an accident happens, it is best to get help from an attorney early on in the process, so that your rights are fully protected. The attorneys at Vititoe Law Group have offices in Westlake Village, Los Angeles and Oxnard, and offer free initial consultations to people injured in motor vehicle accidents.