Spring is here, and like most everyone else with a pulse, we’re aching to get outside and enjoy the mild weather. Let’s face it: This is when we enjoy our neighborhoods the most. Autumn is hectic, winter is spent indoors, and summer is too hot to do more than amble off to a pool.

But spring is when we get out in the yard, start planting, take after-supper walks, get reacquainted with neighbors and dust off the bikes.

It’s also, unfortunately, when some of those bikes put us in harm’s way. Just last summer, an SMU professor was indicted on charges of aggravated assault wth a deadly weapon after a collision with a cyclist at White Rock Lake. And last fall, the co-owner of the Richardson Bike Mart was hospitalized with serious injuries after a driver hit her. Sadly, these are the cases that make headlines but many other cyclists have had similar experiences.

The good news is that Dallas has a more extensive trail system than ever before where cyclists don’t have to worry about motorists at all.

The rest of the time, they’d be wise to watch out. About 40 percent of bike fatalities occur in Texas, New York, California and Florida, according to the Pedestrian and Bicyling Information Center. While those are large states, size alone doesn’t necessarily account for the high numbers of bike deaths. By comparison, the four states combined account for 28 percent of all traffic fatalities.

The good news is that bike fatalities appear to be declining. Federal data shows that in 2001, 728 people died from bike/car crashes, compared to 859 in 1990. That represents a 20 percent decline in 10 years. The number of reported injuries also fell, from 68,000 in 1993 to 45,000 in 2001.

The bad news is that children are a majority of those injured. Kids age 15 and under accounted for 59 percent of all bike related injuries treated by hospital emergency rooms in 2001, according to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.

In a 1999 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, researchers found that almost all of those killed in bike collisions – 95 percent – were not wearing helmets. If every bike rider wore a helmet, the organization found, some 150 lives could be saved.

But not surprisingly, the use of bike helmets falls as children reach adolescence. Only about one-quarter of children aged 5 to 14 wear helmets, and almost no teenagers wear them, according to the CDC.

What can you do to improve bike safety?

  • For the politically inclined, support bills in Austin that affect bike riders. In particular, the Safe Bicycle Passing Law (SB 859) is modeled on a measure approved in 2003 that required motorists to move over for emergency vehicles.
  • Go to Austin April 18 for “Cyclists in Suits,” the Texas Bike Lobby Day. Organizers want to have cyclists from every legislative district in Texas visit the capitol to garner support for bikers’ interests. For more information, check with Texas Bicycle Coalition (biketexas.org.)

Put a helmet on your kid and drive safely!