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After fatal biking accident, tips for a safer ride in the Bay Area


Police have decided not to charge the driver of the SUV who struck and killed a Novato girl on a busy street in October, the department announced Nov. 8. The girl, who had been riding on West Novato Boulevard, was hit head-on by the SUV and died after she was taken to a local trauma center.

The cause of the accident remains a mystery to investigators. At the time, it was only known the Hailey Ratliff, 12, was new to the area and may have been unfamiliar with the roads. Novato Police eventually determined that the girl had “entered the roadway without yielding the right of way” to the SUV, according to the results of a police investigation.

This sad story is a reminder of six critical, yet basic bicycling safety practices that save lives:

  1. Obey all traffic laws of the road. Minors, those without driver licenses, and licensed drivers all must follow the same rules when cycling on public roads unless otherwise posted. This includes obeying red lights, stopping at stop signs, and yielding right of way where required. See the California DMV’s guide on the right of way here.
  2. In many California cities, it is illegal to ride a bicycle on the sidewalk. Somewhat counter-intuitively, it is almost always safer to ride on the street than on a sidewalk. Visibility is higher on the road than when riding between trees and parked cars. The likelihood of being hit by a car exiting a driveway is also lessened when riding on the road. Roads are generally flattered, as well.
  3. When possible, use the bike lane and ensure proper separation from parked cars. It is generally advisable to stay more than three feet away from any parked cars. If you do not maintain adequate separation, you may collide when someone opens a car and you do not have time to react. People have died this way. If there is no bike lane, you are legally entitled to as much of a lane as you need to avoid obstacles on the roadway. (CVC 21202)
  4. Wear a helmet! Helmets save lives. Furthermore, make sure the helmet you are wearing fits properly and the strap fits snug, with no more than two fingers’ space between the strap and your chin.
  5. Make yourself visible. Signal your intentions. Though bikes travel slower than cars, drivers still need to know what you’re going to do. Use your arms to signal turns. When riding at night, wear reflective clothing and use a bicycle headlight. A flashing light on the rear of your bike increases visibility.
  6. Do not substitute drunk driving with drunk bicycling. Both are illegal and dangerous, and since most drunk driving accidents happen at night, safety issues are greatly compounded on a bicycle.

While tragic events will never cease to happen entirely, cyclists can do their best to minimize risk while on the road. For other bike-related safety tips, visit bicyclesafe.com.