Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety
MaineDOT strives to make bicyclists and pedestrians an integrated element of our intermodal transportation system. Bicyclists and pedestrians are significant partners in MaineDOT’s efforts, providing cost-effective solutions to our state’s mobility, safety and environmental goals. Pedestrians and bicyclists should be afforded the ability to safely travel between traffic generators such as homes, places of work, stores, schools, parks, etc.
The goal of a transportation system is to provide safe and efficient mobility and access for all modes of travel, including pedestrian and bicycle travel. MaineDOT is committed to providing a safe and efficient transportation system for all users.
Bicycling is an age-old American pastime as well as an important mode of transportation. Bicycling is also a recreational and fitness activity enjoyed by children, adults, and seniors—with about 85 million adults and children riding their bikes every year. For some Americans, bicycling is a healthy, clean, economical, and fun transportation alternative. Bicycling enhances your physical health, mental outlook and overall quality of life.
Since bicycles share the road with motorists and other users of the road system, bikers face a number of hazards. In order to ensure your safety as a bicyclist, please review and practice the safety tips outlined on this website. They might just save your life!
General Bicycle Safety Tips
- Wear a helmet
All bicyclists should wear properly fitted bicycle helmets every time they ride. A helmet is the single most effective way to prevent head injury resulting from a bicycle crash. When worn correctly, a bicycle helmet can reduce your chances of head injury in an accident. Only use an ANSI / Snell approved helmet designed specifically for bicycling. Once a helmet has sustained any impact it should be replaced. Helmets should also be replaced if they are five years old or older or are left in a hot car. Worn correctly, a helmet should be set just above your eyebrows and be snug on your head so that it stays in place if you shake your head. If your helmet is loose or tilted back exposing your forehead it cannot adequately protect your head. Visit www.nhtsa.gov for more info on how to properly fit your bicycle helmet.
- Obey the Rules of the Road
Bicyclists are considered vehicle operators; they are required to obey the same rules of the road as other vehicle operators, including obeying traffic signs, signals, and lane markings. For more info, please view the Maine bicycling law documents.
- Ride with traffic
Always ride on the right side of the road. Do not pass motorists on the right side. If you approach an intersection with a right turning lane and intend to continue straight, do not enter the right turn lane. Ride with the through traffic. When riding with others, ride single file.
- Regularly inspect and maintain your bicycle
Bicycles, like any machine, need to be cared for to perform correctly. Be safe and keep your bike tuned up or take it to a bicycle shop for inspection regularly (a professional inspection is recommended every six months). Perform the ABC (Air, Brakes, and Chain) check each time you ride your bike. Make sure your tires are properly inflated, your brakes are working properly, and your chain and gears are functioning.
- Be visible
When riding at dawn, dusk, or night, remember to wear bright reflective clothing in order to make yourself as visible as possible. While most bicycles are equipped with reflectors, they are not sufficient and rely on the lights of other vehicles to work. Always ride with headlights and taillights visible from at least 500 feet away.
- Be predictable
Always ride straight and be predictable. Do not weave from side to side, or suddenly move out into traffic. Be alert and plan ahead to avoid obstacles. If the road is narrow for a bicycle and a car to travel side by side, the bicyclist should occupy the lane until it is safe to move back to the right. Always check over your shoulder before changing your lane position. Never weave between parked cars.
- Watch for potential road hazards
Scan the road 50 to 100 feet ahead at all times for road hazards like drain grates, pot holes, railroad tracks (cross them at right angles), puddles (which may be hiding a pothole), or road debris. Slow down and allow time to maneuver around these hazards and negotiate with traffic. Give yourself three or four feet of room when passing a parked car on the road. Their doors can open suddenly and cause you to crash. Be alert and attentive and avoid parked cars if possible.
- Properly secure loads
Never hang bags or packages on your handlebars or hold them in your arms. Secure loads on a rack, in bike bags, or on a bicycle trailer. For light loads, use a backpack.
- Signal all turns and stops
As a vehicle driver you must always signal your intent to turn and stop using the hand signals. Look before you make a lane change or turn. Before you maneuver, look behind for traffic, signal your turn and change lane position when clear to do so. Then, when it is safe, execute your turn and proceed to bike in a predictable manner.
- Be prepared for conditions
Always carry water and appropriate clothing when traveling by bicycle. In the rain, allow yourself extra stopping distance when you use your brakes.
- For More Information
- Visit the Bicycle Coalition of Maine Safety page. Here, you can view bicycle safety tips, learn about bicycle safety instructors, and view and print safety brochures.
- Check out the Maine Bureau of Highway Safety’s Bicycle Helmet Safety Guide for more information on bicycle helmet safety.
- Download our Be a Safe Driver Fact Sheet (PDF)
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Bicycle Safety Resources
Share the Road Campaign
Since 1992, the Bicycle Coalition of Maine (BCM) has been advocating for bicycling safety, education, and access. Bicycle Coalition of Maine’s Share the Road Campaign aims to educate both bicyclists and motorists about safe, responsible use of the road system. Over the years, the Bicycle Coalition of Maine has succeeded in getting five pages added to the Maine Motorist Handbook, a bicycle safety question on the Maine Driver Exam, training Driver Education Instructors about how to teach new drivers about sharing the road. The primary communication objectives of the Share the Road campaign are to:
- Raise awareness among motorists to be on the lookout for bicyclists and how best to interact with them.
- Educate motorists about bicyclists’ rights to use the road.
- Educate motorists about their responsibilities under Maine law, such as giving bicyclists three feet of clearance and waiting to pass the cyclist when safe to do so.
- Educate bicyclists about safe bike driving procedures and their responsibilities under Maine law, such as riding with traffic, staying off sidewalks, signaling turns, obeying traffic signals and using lights at night.
- Make biking safer, thus encouraging more people to feel comfortable driving their bikes.
Be sure to check out this great safety video from the NHTSA.
BCM has a wealth of safety information on their Share the Road website, including video and radio ads, brochures, and even a place to order Share the Road bumper stickers.
Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Education
Trained instructors are available to come to your class to teach bicycle and pedestrian safety to your grade 3-8 classes. Presentations include:
- An in-depth presentation on bike safety that fits within your regular class period
- An overview of how to be a safe pedestrian
- Handouts for all students and their parents
- A program that adds value to Walk and Bike to School events
Walking is a great way to exercise, recreate, and a great way to get around. The physical and psychological benefits of walking are well documented. Walking helps control obesity, helps prevent heart disease, and contributes to your overall quality of life. When you walk, you have more interactions with friends, family and neighbors than you do while driving. Walking helps you leave a smaller footprint on the environment too. By choosing to walk, you are making a healthy decision for your body, your mind, and your environment. However, as a pedestrian, you are a vulnerable user of the road system. As a user of the road system, you have responsibilities just like motorists.
It is imperative that we all know how to walk carefully so we get to where we are going safely. As a group, pedestrians comprise about 6 percent of all highway fatalities each year. On average, a pedestrian is killed in a traffic crash every 113 minutes and injured in a traffic crash every 8 minutes in the United States. On average, a pedestrian is hit by a motor vehicle in Maine once a day. In the past five years, there have been 1358 crashes and 51 fatalities involving pedestrians in Maine. In 2008, 4,378 pedestrians were killed in the United States in traffic crashes, according to the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration.
General Safety Tips for all Pedestrians
- Look and Listen
Accidents involving pedestrians occur throughout the year because of pedestrian inattention and carelessness. Always be alert while walking and don’t assume that motorists, bikers and other pedestrians can see you.
- See and be seen - Dress brightly
- Do not assume that motorists can see you.
- Wear bright colors or reflective clothing if you are walking at dusk, dawn, or night.
- Carry a flashlight if you are walking at night.
- Stay out of a driver's blind spot at all times.
- Make eye contact with motorists when crossing the street.
- Do not let children play near traffic or cross the street by themselves. Children are small, and drivers may not see them if they run into the street.
- Walk on the sidewalk - Walk against traffic if necessary
The sidewalk is the safest place for pedestrians to walk. You should always walk on the sidewalk if one is available. If you must walk on or near a road, remember to walk against the flow of traffic. This allows you to see oncoming traffic and to react if necessary.
- When crossing the street, use a crosswalk
Properly located and warranted marked crosswalks are the safest places for pedestrians to cross the road because they are more visible and motorists are more aware that a pedestrian may be crossing. Maine law requires motorists to yield the right-of-way to pedestrians in marked crosswalks. Even though motorists must yield, it is important to wait, look both ways, make eye contact, and proceed only when you know it is safe. When at a crosswalk with a signal, wait for the WALK signal before crossing the street. It is very unsafe to jaywalk diagonally across any intersection. The safest crossing points will have:
- Enough room for you to stand back from the roadway
- Crosswalks that are clearly defined on the pavement
- Crossing signals that indicate when you should cross
- A crossing guard to stop traffic to allow you to cross
- Allow plenty of time to cross streets
When crossing the street it is important to allow enough time to cross from one side to the other even when using a crosswalk. A signalized crosswalk usually allows plenty of time to cross the street, however be aware of how much time the signal allows you. A crossing guard gives you as much time as you need to cross the street. Follow these rules when crossing the street:
- Cross at a cross walk whenever you can.
- Stop, look left, look right, and look left again before crossing.
- Cross with a crossing guard’s help when they are available.
- At traffic lights, wait for the white WALK sign before crossing.
- Watch for turning traffic at intersections even when using a crosswalk.
- Wait, watch, and wave. Be certain to wait until all cars have stopped in all lanes and drivers see you before you cross the road. Wave to cars as you cross to thank them.
- Walk at a constant speed and in a predictable manner.
- Walk defensively
Don't simply assume that motorists know that by law, pedestrians have the right-of-way. Many of them don't. Be on guard at all times as a pedestrian.
- Don’t be distracted
As a pedestrian, it is easy to be distracted by your environment, listening to music, talking on a cell phone. However it is important to remain alert and aware of your surroundings in order to remain safe. Pay attention to traffic and other hazards of the road.
- Watch out for cars
Both pedestrians and motorists have responsibilities when using the roadways. Operating a motor vehicle is very difficult. It is easy to become distracted behind the wheel. Motorist distractions are a primary cause of pedestrian crashes. Therefore as a pedestrian, do not assume that motorists see you. Make yourself visible and don’t assume the right of way.
- Plan safe walking routes
Some walking routes are safer than others. Use the routes that have the least amount of traffic, the largest sidewalk, the least amount of street crossings and the best lighting.
- Be alert to engine noise
Parked vehicles pose a major threat to pedestrians. Be aware of cars that have turned on their engines, they will be pulling out soon. Be alert
- For More Information
Maine Pedestrian Safety Action Plan
Over the last year, MaineDOT and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) have worked on the development of a Statewide Pedestrian Safety Campaign. An in-depth analysis was conducted on motor vehicle crashes involving pedestrians, including frequency and contributing factors. This analysis was used to develop target messages for the pedestrian safety campaign. The results of these efforts have the potential to save lives and reduce injuries, and to educate the traveling public on the importance of safe driver and pedestrian behaviors.
If you would like to develop your own pedestrian safety action plan in order to improve pedestrian conditions in your community, check out the Safety Action Plan (PDF) from the Federal Highway Administration.
- Bicycle Coalition of Maine (BCM)
Advocating bicycling safety, education, and access in Maine, the BCM works to make Maine accessible and safe for all residents and visitors so they may comfortably and responsibly bicycle. The BCM promotes bicycling for transportation, health, recreation, and fun to enhance our communities, environment, and economy. The BCM offers the Bicycle Safety Education Program, Bicycle Safety Teacher Training, and Bicycle Safety and the Law training for police as part of a contract with the Maine Department of Transportation. BCM also offers Bike Commuting courses for employers and employees, and coordinates nationally certified Bike Ed courses in Maine. In addition to publishing Maine Cyclist and assorted educational handouts for bicycling and walking safety, the BCM maintains a small library of materials. We can direct you where to best find other resources. The BCM website provides assistance with anything bicycling-related.
- Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Pedestrian and Bicycle Program
The Federal Highway Administration is charged with administering federal funds for transportation improvements, and providing technical assistance to localities implementing pedestrian and bicycle projects and programs. Three offices in FHWA address pedestrian and bicyclist safety. The Office of Safety and the Office of Safety Research work together to develop tools and technologies to reduce the number of pedestrians and bicyclists killed and injured on our nation’s roadways. The Pedestrian and Bicycle Program of FHWA’s Office of Human and Natural Environment promotes bicycle and pedestrian transportation accessibility, use, and safety. The FHWA Pedestrian and Bicycle Program issues guidance and is responsible for overseeing that requirements in legislation are understood and met by the states and other implementing agencies.
- Maine Safe Routes to School Program (MSRTS)
Safe Routes to School is a federal, state, and local effort to enable and encourage children, including those with disabilities, to walk and bicycle to school, and to make walking and bicycling to school safe and more appealing. A major goal of the program is to increase bicycle, pedestrian, and traffic safety. In partnership with the Maine Department of Transportation, the Bicycle Coalition of Maine provides staff support and resources to schools and communities to increase the number of students walking and bicycling to school. Walking and bicycling is a great way for kids to be healthy and enjoy Maine's beautiful outdoors!
- National Center for Bicycling and Walking (NCBW)
The National Center for Bicycling and Walking provides bicycle and pedestrian advocates and professionals, transportation engineers and planners, public health specialists, and others with easy access to the information, training, tools, and experts they need to foster active living through community design.
- National Center for Safe Routes to School (NCSRTS)
The National Center for Safe Routes to School aims to assist communities in developing successful Safe Routes programs and strategies. The Center offers information on how to start and sustain a Safe Routes to School program, and case studies of successful programs, as well as many other resources.
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s mission is to save lives, prevent injuries, and reduce economic costs due to road traffic crashes through education, research, safety standards, and enforcement activity. The agency collects and publishes state and national crash data, including data on pedestrian and bicycle crashes. NHTSA administers funding to support programs developed and implemented by state traffic safety offices. They also distribute to the general public free educational information and publications focused on many areas of traffic safety, including bicycling, walking, and driving. NHTSA usually communicates through the traffic safety offices rather than directly with neighborhood residents.
- Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (PBIC)
The Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (initiated and funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration) hosts several Web sites that contain comprehensive information on walking and bicycling issues, and resources for community members and professionals to improve conditions for walking and biking.