We don't have to look far to know that bicycle safety is serious business.

Statistics show that last year in Pennsylvania, the number of bicycle accident injuries increased to 1,474 up from the 1,380 crashes in 2009 and the number of deaths increased to 21.

The 20-34 age group had the highest number of injuries in bicycle accidents, while persons 45-64 had the highest number of deaths.

According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, however, children ages 5 to 14 years old are the most at risk of death and injury from a bike accident.

In 2009, most of Pennsylvania's 16 bicycle deaths occurred at non-intersections.

Head injuries account for 62 percent of bicycle-related deaths, which speaks to the importance of wearing a properly fitted helmet. About 33 percent of all bicycle-related emergency department visits and 67 percent of all bicycle-related hospital admissions involve head injuries.

Given these statistics, it's not difficult for us to welcome any upgrades to ensuring the safety of bicyclists. A law that sets new rules for Pennsylvania motorists to follow when encountering a bicyclist took effect today. The law, which is designed to promote a safe traffic flow, was signed by Governor Tom Corbett on Feb. 2.

PennDOT Secretary Barry J. Schoch urges all drivers and cyclists to learn the rules of the road to better share our highways, explaining that the biggest safety challenge with motor vehicles and bicycles sharing roadways is the speed differential.

The drivers of two-wheel and four-wheel vehicles should always obey all traffic signs and signals, but they now have new responsibilities.

Under the new law, motorists are required to leave a 4-foot "cushion of safety" when passing a bicyclist. To achieve this cushion, drivers may cross a roadway's center line when passing a bicycle on the left, but only when opposing traffic allows. And drivers attempting to turn left must also yield the right of way to bicycle riders traveling in the opposite direction.

The law also calls for bicycle riders to use all reasonable efforts to avoid impeding the normal flow of traffic. When there is only one travel lane, bicyclists may use any portion of the lane to avoid hazards on the roadway, including maintaining a safe distance from stopped and parked cars.

As always, bicyclists are also encouraged to ride predictably and signal their intentions before proceeding so that motorists have a chance to react.

The state's excellent website www.DriveSafePA.org. outlines all the new information on bicycling safety.

By Jim Zbick

jzbick@tnonline.com