Aug 022011

Published by The Wave

BETHANY BEACH — To educate cyclists about state laws and reduce the number of bike-related accidents, the Bethany Beach Police Department has started issuing warnings to violators.

Since 2007, the department has been involved with the state’s bicycle safety initiative, in which checkpoints are set up to inform cyclists about laws, bicycle safety and to make sure bikes are in working order.

According to Town Manager Cliff Graviet, this year the department has added an enforcement component to its safety initiative and has handed out more than 200 warnings for infractions. If a cyclist is stopped again, he or she will be cited for the offense.

Currently, most area police departments issue warnings or tickets to bicycle law-breakers.

“Not everyone realizes that bicyclists are bound by the same motor vehicle laws that are applied to (drivers),” Graviet said.

With more people using bicycles as their primary mode of transportation, education is important, said Bethany Beach Police Chief Michael Redmon. Along with warnings, his officers are distributing brochures about bike safety.

The most common violations have been for not riding with the flow of traffic, not stopping at stop signs and not using hand signals, he said. While his officers have seen repeat violations, no one has been ticketed, Redmon said.

“We take a proactive approach to pedestrian and bicycle safety,” he said. “We want to reduce bicycle-related crashes and make sure cyclists are aware they have to follow state and local bicycle laws.”

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.

The Rehoboth Beach Police Department Bicycle Patrol Unit was established in 1992, and with one bike officer assigned to every patrol, their primary duty is to enforce bicycle regulations, according to Chief Keith Banks.

His officers work to remind citizens about the importance of wearing helmets, not wearing headphones when riding a bike and having a light for nighttime biking, he said.

Warnings are also issued to violators, and some are ticketed, Banks said.

“It’s definitely not for revenue; the fines are very low, like $5,” he said. “If I can educate (cyclists) here in town, maybe when they go out onto the highway, they’ll (be prepared).”

Bethany Beach property owner Mary White’s husband and son were issued warnings for not riding with the flow of traffic and riding a bike while carrying an object, respectively.

Although she agrees bicycle safety is important, she said the emphasis should be on pedestrian safety and reducing the speed of cars on highly traveled roads, such as Pennsylvania Avenue.

“My son is 35 years old, a father of two. He didn’t hit anything, he didn’t hurt anyone. It’s just crazy,” White said. “When they give you a written citation … that’s over the top.”

Ocean View Police Chief Ken McLaughlin said his department has been working with the Bethany Beach Police Department to step up enforcement efforts during the last few years.

The problem in the greater Bethany-Ocean View area is that the number of bicyclists increases each year and the roadways are congested and in poor condition, he said.

While the number of accidents in Ocean View averages about six per summer, McLaughlin said some have been severe.

“If you’re out there and not following the rules and not being very cautious, there’s a high probability you will be involved in a crash,” he said.

This year, there have been five bicycle accidents in Rehoboth Beach with one resulting in personal injury. Last year, there were 11 accidents with four causing injuries.

In Bethany, Redmon said there has been a decrease in bicycle-related crashes throughout the years. He said there were six in 2008, five in 2009 and three last year.

“In all that we do for bicycle safety, if we just save one life, then we’ve done our jobs,” he said.

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