When cyclists feel nervous around cars, they often decide to ride on the sidewalk. They don’t contemplate whether it is legal or not. They just feel like the sidewalk separates them from cars and keeps them safe, so that’s where they go.

This feeling of safety is a misconception. The truth is that riding on the sidewalk is more dangerous than riding on the road. Why is this true?

Passing cars

When you ride on the street, you ride with traffic. Moving to the sidewalk keeps you away from these vehicles as they overtake your bike.

However, the odds of actually getting hit by someone who drives up behind your bike are very small. This is simply not how most bike accidents happen. By and large, drivers behind you on the street, though they may make you feel nervous, are not going to hit you.

Intersection crashes

Your real danger lies in getting into some sort of an accident at an intersection. Those risks increase when you ride on the sidewalk because it’s harder for drivers to see you and you are not where they expect you to be.

For instance, one study found that 42% of the bikes that got hit by drivers who turned left in front of them were on the sidewalk when it happened. They also found that almost half — 48% — of the cyclists who got hit by drivers coming out of alleys and driveways were riding on the sidewalk.

Drivers often do not check the sidewalk at all. They just check the street. Ask pedestrians and runners, and they’ll tell you the same thing. People constantly drive over the sidewalk without looking, as if it is part of the road.

If you’re on foot, at least you’re going relatively slowly. If you’re on a bike, though, you could be riding along at 15 to 20 miles per hour. When a driver just does not look to see if you are there, you’re flying toward an accident.

The sidewalk feels safer because you stay farther away from the drivers who are least likely to hit you. That feeling is an illusion. You’re actually in more danger because you have greater odds of getting hit by the type of drivers who were your main threat all along.

Your rights

Now you know why you should stay off of the sidewalk and ride in the street. If you do get hit, make sure you also know what legal rights you have to financial compensation.