(Tiffani Wheat)

By Ben Kleppinger

After a 15-year-old girl died from a collision last Wednesday between a car and the bike she was riding on the Eastern bypass, safety precautions students should take when riding bicycles have been brought to light.One of the best things you can do, and one of the most obvious, is wear a helmet, said Cpl. Patrick Begley, a bicycle officer for Eastern police.

Begley said 75 percent of all bike fatalities are due to head injuries. Some students don’t wear helmets because they don’t want to mess up their hair, Begley said.

“I would rather save my head than worry about my hair,” he said.

Begley said his own experiences as a biker have taught him how important it is to wear a helmet.

“I’ve cracked a helmet and that’s why I’m a big believer in helmets,” he said. “It’s not exactly the coolest look, but I’d rather be unscarred.”

Begley said people should get a helmet they like. “If you hate it, you’re not going to wear it,” he said.

While wearing a helmet might be the first safety measure to come to mind, another aspect of bike riding plays a big part in safety. Where you purchase your bike can make a huge difference in how safe you are on the road, Begley said.

Bicycles available at department stores like Wal-Mart are not a very safe bet, Begley said.

“They’re cheap for transportation, but they’re dangerous,” he said. “If you come screaming down a hill and you squeeze your brakes and your brakes don’t work, you will have a pretty bad day.”

Begley said bikes from department stores tend to be poorly assembled and made of low-quality parts that break easily. Begley said he saw a wreck once where the bicyclist broke his arm after the rim on his bicycle crumpled against a curb.

If the bicycle had been from a bike shop, the rider would have fared much better, Begley said. Bicycles from bike shops are more expensive, but they’re more expensive for a reason, Begley said.

Repairs for department store bicycles often cost more than the bicycle itself did, he said.

“(Department store bicycles) are made to be disposable,” he said.

But a good bike shop bicycle can last you a lifetime, Begley said.Beyond your equipment, how you behave on your bicycle is important as well, Begley said. “Bicyclists are safer when they act like a car,” he said.

Bicycles legally count as cars, but there are no regulations keeping them off sidewalks or grass, Begley said.

Bicyclists should obey the rules of the road whenever possible and use hand signals when they turn, Begley said.

Bicyclists should attempt to make eye contact with oncoming drivers, Begley said. Doing so will keep both the bicyclists and vehicles aware and reduce accidents, he said. Begley said it’s good to be paranoid when riding a bicycle, because you don’t want to take any chances on getting hit by a car.

“You have a bike and your body weight versus a 5,000-pound vehicle,” he said.

Bicyclists should be extra careful at night, Begley said.

The reflectors on many bicycles only meet the bare minimum requirements for visibility. Begley said bicyclists should make the $5 investment and purchase some blinking LED lights for riding at night.

Night bicycling accounts for 4 percent of bicycling, Begley said. But 42 percent of bicycling fatalities occur at night. Begley said he suggests using reflective tape to increase your visibility.

For the most part, Begley said he thinks students on campus are pretty good about riding bikes.

What it really comes down to is common sense, Begley said.

“Whether it’s on the street, on the sidewalk, wherever, you need to be aware of what’s around you,” he said.