Delaware’s Bicycle Checkpoints Promote Safety

By ALYSON CUNNINGHAM | June 14, 2011

As the summer season kicks into high gear, state officials and law enforcement agencies want to educate cyclists to ensure a safe ride.

In 2007, the state Department of Transportation teamed up with Sussex Cyclists and police agencies to set up bike checkpoints to inform cyclists about laws, safety and make sure the bike is in working order. This year, DelDOT has planned about 15 bicycle checkpoints.

According to Jim Westhoff, spokesman for DelDOT, these stations are geared toward “the people who just got their bikes off the porch.”

“It is the inexperienced cyclists who seem to be more at risk; the people who ride 100 miles a week already understand how to ride safely,” he said. “That’s why education is so important; that’s why we’ve partnered with the bike clubs in the state to have these checkpoints to educate the cyclists.”

It’s a great way to reach their target audience, he said. They have met people who are riding against traffic, don’t wear a helmet and don’t have lights on their bike or functioning breaks.

“A little education … that is saving lives,” Westhoff said.

Ocean View Police Chief Ken McLaughlin said it is important to educate foreign students because their primary mode of transportation is usually bicycles.

“Over the past couple of years, there has been some serious collisions between these students and vehicles,” he said.

In 2010, there were two fatal bicycle crashes in Sussex County and 40 injuries due to collisions, said Allison Kirk, spokeswoman for the Office of Highway Safety.

Westhoff said simple tips, such as riding with traffic as far to the right of the road as possible, being visible at night and wearing a helmet, can ensure a safe ride.

Delaware law requires every bicycle in use at night be equipped with a lamp on the front that emits a white light visible from 500 feet. Also, all bicycles must be equipped with a red reflector on the rear visible for 600 feet as well as reflective material on both sides also visible from 600 feet.

The Bethany Beach Police Department will give away bike lights and helmets will supplies last to those in need, according to Police Chief Michael Redmon. In the four years the agency has handed out these items, it has definitely helped, he said.

“Our goal is focused on public safety and the safety of the cyclist,” Redmon said. “To make sure they are aware of the rules of the road and make sure they have the appropriate equipment to increase visibility.”

McLaughlin said the first year his department held a bike checkpoint, in 2006, 130 cyclists passed through between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m.

“All these folks are working in restaurants, they close up around 1 (a.m.) and now they have to head home,” he said. “It’s really dangerous for them to be out there.”

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