Safety, Safety, Safety:  Accidents Happen But Let's Try To Prevent Them

Safety, Safety, Safety: Accidents Happen But Let's Try To Prevent Them

I recently had a pretty bad bike accident. Maybe I could have avoided it:

  • if I'd stopped faster,
  • if I'd taken a different route,
  • if I'd stayed at home that day
  • if I'd used my bell or my voice to warn the guy
  • if he had controlled his dog

There are so many "if's" but, let's be honest, we're never in control of all of the factors that contribute to an accident. In my case, a dog owner was watching his phone, not the trail and, when his dog decided he wanted to get closer to my bike, the owner allowed the retractable leash extend without looking up from his phone to see what the dog wanted to explore.  I almost stopped in time but not quite. I hit the dog then hit the pavement with my chin.  Stuff happens. A few broken bones and a broken tooth later, I'm on the mend and back moving around.  Many of my friends now comment that they come to a dead stop now when they see a dog.  I'm not sure what I will do going forward but this won't stop me.  Let's look at what I could have done.  (And please, if you have any additional suggestions, please share them!)

Evasive Action

My bike has rim brakes but my next bike will have disc brakes. I know I could have stopped quicker had I had disc brakes.  Noted.  Faster braking could have flipped me over my handlebars anyway, I guess.  Plus, the trail was slightly downhill at that point so it would have always taken more force to stop in this spot.  As for proceeding with caution, I had noticed that the guy was not paying attention so I had already slowed down significantly and was covering my brakes well in advance.  Not cautious enough. The lesson learned here is that you can't expect others to act responsibly.  Going forward, I might just stop for dogs in a situation like this.

Different Routes

I chose a multi-use trail that is closed to vehicle traffic. I know many others who choose to ride on roads with vehicle traffic on the assumption that vehicles will act responsibly and give us enough space to be safe.  However, we all know that that's just not always the case. An interaction with a motor vehicle can be much more devastating to a cyclist. Plus, this trail is through parkland which can be pretty damn beautiful. I'll continue to choose a trail like this.  We weigh the relative perceived risks and make our own decisions.  

Stay At Home

Like I said to another injured friend, "couch potatoes don't get injured."  We're active and we're going outside, out in the world. We take a risk every time we leave the house but we're healthier (and I like to think, happier) for it.  I choose an active and the risks it presents.   I wouldn't have it any other way.  I think many of will agree:  I'm going outside.

Make Some Noise

When we confronted the dog owner, he did say "You could have used your bell."  I was riding towards him so, as my husband explained, me using  my bell would be like driving down the road honking your horn so oncoming vehicles could see you. Plus, the fact that I had my hands on both brakes trying to avoid hitting the dog and I am limited to just two hands so that third hand I would have needed in order to ring a bell just wasn't there.   I could have yelled, I guess.  I come back to realizing, though, that we share space on the trails and in the world with others.  Perhaps, when we rely on them to also act responsibly, maybe we are being overly optimistic, to our peril.    

Shared Responsibilities:  Control Your Dog

We can't control the actions or inaction of others. We rely on them to obey bylaws and otherwise act responsibly but, other than that, we are at their mercy. Unless and until there is better education and enforcement, we each have limited ability to encourage more responsible and respectful behaviour from all trail users.  

But it's not just dog owners that need to act responsibly.  I've heard complaints about cyclists not having or using bells, new bike riders enjoying the trails but seeming to have no understanding of trail etiquette, pedestrians walking two or three abreast blocking the trails to everyone else. We see and hear about many types of behaviours that can negatively impact the use of trails by others and these actions aren't usually intentional harmful, just ignorantly so. So, what is to be done?  Seriously. I'm asking:  what can we do?  Is an abundance of caution the only protection we have?  I'd sure like to know.  I'm open to suggestions.