You won’t get two lines into a driver’s manual or driver safety lecture before you encounter the term “defensive driving.” Expecting other motorists to make mistakes and staying prepared to respond appropriately definitely prevents crashes, avoids injuries and save lives.

The same benefits follow from defensive biking. During 2019, the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles logged 635 serious collisions involving “bicycle drivers.” Those wrecks led to 13 deaths and sent 614 bike riders to hospitals with injuries.

The reason those statistics shine a light on the need to bike defensively is because fewer than half the reported wrecks were caused by people driving cars and trucks. Bicyclists often crash due to negligent and inconsiderate actions of pedestrians, other bike riders and themselves.

The DMV’s list of bicycle driver actions in the moments before the 2019 wrecks includes

  • Failure to Yield
  • Ran Traffic Control
  • Improper Passing
  • Improper Turn
  • Following Too Close
  • Left of Center—Not Passing
  • Hit and Run
  • Lights Not On
  • Avoiding Other Vehicle
  • Improper Lane Change

Bicyclists must operate as if they faced risks at all times. Because they do.



Biking defensively, which involves doing things like stopping at red lights and yielding right of way when turning, keeps a bicyclist from committing any of the errors listed above. But biking safely demands much more than simply complying with traffic rules that also apply to motor vehicles and pedestrians.

Expect a Crash and Act to Prevent That

My Virginia personal injury law firm colleagues and I consider the website “How to Not Get Hit by Cars” a must-read for bike riders. It illustrates 10 real-world situations that threaten bicyclists’ safety and clearly how to respond. For instance, the site advises riders to slow down, wave, use a headlamp and briefly (and only when safe) veer left in order to reduce the risk of being struck by a car or truck emerging from a parking lot or side street.

The site can also be refreshingly blunt. Its sole highlighted tip for not ending up as the victim of a wrong-way driver is “Don’t ride against traffic.”

The longest list of tips appears in the section on reducing the risk for being hit from behind by a speeding, distracted or impatient driver. Actions bike riders can take to protect themselves include attaching a rear light to their bicycle seat, sticking to wide streets with low posted speed limits, and using a rearview mirror.

In all circumstance, bike riders protect themselves by

  • Never drinking and biking;
  • Always wearing a properly fitted helmet;
  • Riding in the same direction as traffic;
  • Keeping right;
  • Staying off sidewalks; and
  • Maximizing their visibility by using lights at night, putting reflectors on the from and rear of their bike, and wearing fluorescent or reflective clothing.

Riders who do these things and still fall victim to wrecks caused by car and truck drivers have strong grounds for filing personal injury claims.