Robert Kirby: Riding a bike in traffic can be risky, so it may surprise you why I back a plan to change Utah law

But cyclists need to be alert, because motorists often aren’t.

Robert Kirby

I understand there are plenty of legitimate reasons to ride a bicycle in vehicle traffic — personal fitness, environmental concerns, cost, insanity, etc.

While I wouldn’t do it myself, because I’m old, fat and not very smart, the fact remains that cyclists have a right to be on the roadways. Yeah, every bit as much as motor vehicles.

But there are several things a cyclist needs before venturing out into Utah traffic, an adventure that amounts to riding a spindly contraption in the middle of a stampeding herd of crazed steel buffalo.

A helmet? Yes. Gloves? Yes. Protective glasses are also a good idea. Nothing takes your mind off the road quite like an angry horse fly squirming under an eyelid.

But I was thinking of something even more essential than a safety item that can be bought. The one I’m thinking of comes standard on every rider.

It’s the ability to pay attention — mainly because many motorists aren’t. Everything else is a waste of money if you don’t have this mental gadget.

You can holler about helmets all you want, but the sturdiest headgear ever made won’t save you if you get hit by a cement truck traveling at highway speed.

It’s true. I’ve seen it happen. Your brain may arrive at the medical examiner’s office in pristine shape. Fat lot of good it will do you if the rest of your scrambled body is somewhere else.

Most cyclists can share tales of terror about close calls in which only their wits kept them from serious injury or death. See, all the laws passed to protect them from traffic are useless if the person in the car or truck isn’t paying attention.

This is why I support HB142 sponsored by Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay, which would allow bicyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs.

As dangerous as it sounds to “run” a stop sign, studies have proved that it’s safer for cyclists to keep their speed up whenever practicable while riding — as long as they are paying attention. In fact, accidents involving cyclists and motor vehicles have declined in states that adopted this law.

I only had one occasion to write a traffic citation to a bicyclist during the time I was a police officer. The guy clipped two grade schoolers in a crosswalk while he was hustling to class at BYU.

Since neither of the kids was seriously injured, he didn’t think he deserved a ticket. After all, he was only on a bike and they were barely on the road. Surely traffic laws didn’t cover such a thing.

Him • “So what are you writing me a ticket for?’

Me • “Dumba-- in a no-dumba-- zone. Sign here.”

Given the greater vulnerability of cyclists, they need to be alert not only to what they’re doing but to what the motorists are doing as well. Given the average driver, it’s risky business.

Robert Kirby is The Salt Lake Tribune’s humor columnist. Follow Kirby on Facebook.