Staying Safe in Traffic: What Cyclists Need to Know

Of all the things that keep non-cyclists from saddling up and riding, none is greater than the fear of being struck by a motor vehicle.  I understand.  It wasn’t too long ago that I felt the same way.  Now, not so much.  Part of the reason why is that I’ve ridden a lot of miles on the road.  I’ve also learned what’s likely to happen and how to avoid the bad stuff.  That’s what I want to share with you today.
First things first.  If you ride safely and with confidence, the odds of being struck by a motor vehicle are pretty low.  In fact, approximately 50% of all bicycle-automobile crashes are the fault of the cyclist, and these are 100% avoidable.   Ride with traffic, not against it.  Follow all traffic laws all the time, not just when somebody’s looking.  Pay particular attention around intersections and driveways.  Assume they can’t see you.  These easy steps you can take that will reduce the risk of a crash by close to 50% and they’re entirely within your control.
So what else do you need to know?  Here’s a short list to keep in mind before you head out for your next ride.
1.  Know How to Properly Change Lanes
Generally speaking, cyclists should be in the rightmost lane that leads to their destination.  Often times, that means staying to the right, but there are times when you will have to cross multiple lanes to be in the proper position.  Plan ahead.  Scan, signal and then move decisively when the road is clear.  Doing so sends a powerful message to drivers that you belong on the road.
2.  Anticipate Road Hazards
Our roads are falling apart and full of obstacles.  Trouble spots include everything from potholes to road debris to things like railroad tracks and expansion joints on bridges.  Focus forward to anticipate these potential problems. They may require you to adjust lane position.  A little advance planning will go a long way toward keeping you safe as you navigate over and around them.
3.  Don’t Ride Too Far to the Right
Many cyclists assume that they’re safer if they stay to the right.  Not always.  Riding too far right may cause motorists to mistakenly think they can squeeze through when it’s unsafe to do so.  If there’s a curb, you may have nowhere to go if a car gets too close.  Last but not least, road debris often accumulates along the right edge of the road and could result in a cut tire or worse.  Most state laws require cyclists to ride as far right as “practicable.”  What’s practicable is up to you to decide.
With a basic understanding of traffic flow and best cycling practices, it’s possible to safely ride with traffic, even on the most heavily traveled roads.  Before you head out, consider taking Traffic Skills 101 through a League of American Bicyclsts Certified Cycling Instructor.  You’ll learn and practice the skills necessary to ride with confidence, regardless of conditions!


Bob Sharpe is a League of American Bicyclists Certified Cycling Instructor and founder of Bike 5, a movement that encourages people to bicycle for short trips of five miles or less.  You can reach him directly through the Bike 5 page on Facebook.

This article is one of a 12-part series on the basics of riding on the road and covering the primary topics found in the League of American Bicyclists Smart Cycling course.

Read all 11 articles in Bob's Safe Cycling Series here.

Find more resources for better bicycling on our Bicycle Skills and Safety page.


Improving safety for Missourians who bicycle, walk, and drive is one of the primary goals of MoBikeFed's Vision for Bicycling and Walking in Missouri. Work to educate and inform Missourians about important safety and skills topics such as those found in this series on safe bicycling is an important part of that effort.

Your ongoing membership and generous financial support help turn our Vision into reality!

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