I was about to make a right turn onto a five-lane street. There wasn't much traffic, but I waited for it clear, then started my turn. Right in front of me, there was a bicyclist. Going the wrong way. In the dark. Without a helmet. Without a light. I didn't hit him, but I could have. As he bicycled off, I saw he had a red light on the back of the bike. Not much help that does when he's going the wrong way.
A long time ago, it was recommended that you should bike going against traffic. This stupid advice hasn't been given out for a long time. In fact, in Washington State, as in many states, it's illegal to ride against traffic. The King County web site has a good summary.
Here are the essentials:
- You're harder to see when you're biking the wrong way, both to vehicles in the street and to others.
- Motorists making a turn don't spend a lot of time looking the wrong way before making their turn. Pedestrians move slowly enough that they are usually spotted easily. Not so with bicyclists.
- Your speed relative to other traffic is much greater when you ride against traffic, significantly increasing the risk of an accident and the likelihood of injury in an accident.
- Assume that motorists are not looking out for you, both literally and figuratively. Do everything you can to be visible.
- Always wear a helmet, but know that it will not save your life in a major accident. Do everything you can to avoid an accident.
- Use two lights at night -- one in front and one in back. Lights that blink are a good idea. An extra light on your left leg that moves up and down for more visibility is a good idea.
- Following the law is always a good idea, but it's not enough -- in the vast majority of bicycle accidents, the bicyclists were following the law. It will not do you any good to have been in the right when you're hit.