Blog | May 4, 2022

Bicycle Safety and Special Relativity―A Bizarre but Sensible Combination

That title isn’t just for clickbait value; special relativity does, indeed, factor into one of the most common bicycle safety tips. (But, let’s be honest: who’s going to forget a title like that?)

Einstein’s theory of special relativity deals especially with relative motion. In particular, it concluded―quite rightly―that all inertial movement is relative and that there is no preferred universal frame of reference. To put it in simpler terms: when you’re moving at a steady pace, your speed can only be measured relative to the speed of another object. If you’re moving very fast, but an object next to you is moving in the exact same direction at the same speed, relative to each other, you’re not moving at all.

Safety Tip 1

The first safety tip is also the one most commonly dictated by law: when you’re riding a bicycle, make sure you ride in the same direction as other traffic. I’ve never gotten official confirmation of the legislative intent, but here’s where special relativity makes its cameo: if you’re cycling at 20 mph and are struck by a vehicle going 30 mph, but that vehicle is traveling in the same direction as you, you’re only suffering an impact of 10 mph. Compare that to if you had been traveling against traffic but with the same speeds: you would have suffered an impact of 50 mph.

Safety Tip 2

Be aware that, as a bicyclist, you are obligated to the same rules of the road that motor vehicles generally are, especially when you’re traveling on the same roadways. So, that means you should yield when a car would have to yield; you should stop at stop signs, and you should use your “turn signals”―aka, arm motions―just as a few quick examples. Juries have sympathy for bicyclists, but that sympathy will not extend far enough to win you a case where you are legally and technically at fault.

Safety Tip 3

Wear your helmet. Obviously, when you’re cycling, you don’t have the one ton of steel, plastic, and glass that sedans have to protect their occupants. Give yourself that extra bit of protection and avoid what could otherwise be a lasting head injury or concussion.

Safety Tip 4

If you’re cycling at night―or, really, at any time―have reflective clothing on and signal lights on both the front and back of your bicycle. The more visibility you give off to drivers and nearby pedestrians, the safer everyone will be, and the more likely that a jury will find that you were cautious and prudent in establishing your visibility if an accident does happen.

Safety Tip 5

Understand that cars are less likely to acknowledge you. There’s a strange phenomenon that sometimes happens with drivers of automobiles. They can see a bicyclist (or even a motorcyclist), subconsciously understand that it’s a vehicle and an obstacle to be avoided, but consciously act in a way that’s more fitting to someone who didn’t see the bicyclist at all. This is called inattentional blindness, and it’s a type of category error where people, for some reason, believe they can drive in the way of a bicycle or motorcycle. Does this make it your fault? Of course not. But whether it’s your fault or not won’t change the fact of an injury. Simply put, it’s better to avoid an injury altogether.

Safety Tip 6

Make sure your tires have good pressure. Flatter tires mean more energy is needed to propel yourself, and more energy being expended means more exhaustion and less focus.

Safety Tip 7

Make sure that you have incidental safety. Tie your shoelaces. Make sure any bags or items that are attached to the bicycle are not near moving parts. Don’t text and bike. Don’t bike with earbuds in or anything that would impede your senses.

Safety Tip 8

Enjoy your bicycle ride. Personal injury attorneys can give you hints all day on how to ride your bicycle, but don’t forget that the purpose of riding your bike isn’t just to satisfy every nitpicky safety concern that a stranger on the internet gives you. Should you be safe? Absolutely. Should you let the above advice be your only thought as you ride? Absolutely not. Be smart, but enjoy your time out. Given the infamous nature of Pennsylvania weather, it won’t be long before it shifts from 70 degrees Fahrenheit to 40 again randomly.

If you’ve been injured in an accident, contact Cohen, Feeley, Altemose & Rambo at (610) 625-2100. Consultations are always free, and your peace of mind may be only a phone call away.

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