USM bikers advised on safety

Sophomore Alina Martinez speeds off to her next class from the Theatre and Dance Building.

Sophomore Alina Martinez speeds off to her next class from the Theatre and Dance Building. | Photo by A.J. Stewart

The number of bikers on The University of Southern Mississippi campus has soared due to the simplicity of getting around as opposed to driving a car. As the number of students and faculty choosing to ride a bike on campus increases, so does the numbers of bike thefts and accidents.

Bike safety on a college campus is especially essential for the wellbeing of those who reside in and attend the university. There were a reported 35 bicycle thefts at USM in 2013 and two bicycle-related accidents. The reported number of bicycle thefts so far this year is eight while there has been only one reported accident involving bicycles and one reported vandalism of a bicycle on campus.

“Hopefully we are on track this year to have a lower number of bicycle thefts as compared to the previous two years,” detective Christopher Hopkins said. “I feel this is largely due to our campaign to educate students of the importance of securing their bicycles properly and using U-locks, as well as increased proactive patrols.”

Although few bikers are seen with helmets while riding, university police strongly recommend wearing them due to the possible impact on the skull from accidents or collisions, which can cause skull fractures or severe injury to the head. To ensure pedestrian and biker safety, USM’s campus has bike-specific sidewalks.

Hopkins advises bikers to be mindful of surrounding walkers because bikers are moving at a much higher rate of speed. Not only are bikers at risk on the road, but pedestrians are as well.

The University Police Department offers a Community Oriented Policing Program (COPP), which encourages police interaction with students and residence life to gain relationships to educate students on safety.

As for parking, bikes are not to be locked in ways that obstruct disability ramps or rails and should be parked in and locked in the available bike racks found throughout campus. Bikers are required by law to have a headlight or reflector on bicycles.

According to Mississippi Bicycle Laws as stated directly from the Mississippi Department of Transportation, “Every bicycle shall be equipped with a lighted white lamp on the front thereof visible under normal atmospheric conditions from a distance of at least 500 feet in front of such bicycle and shall also be equipped with a reflex mirror reflector or lamp on the rear exhibiting a red light visible under like conditions from a distance of at least 500 feet to the rear of such bicycle.”

Bikers should wear bright clothes and reflective material during the day and night. It is also a state law that bikers walk with their bikes through any crosswalk.

Hopkins recommends routine maintenance on bikes, from inflating tires to oiling chains, which can be done by themselves or at places like Moore’s Bike Shop located on Hardy Street. “There is always a risk of an accident,” Hopkins said. “Bikers shouldn’t assume car see them. Many people who ride bikes don’t understand that they’re subject to traffic laws.”

Hopkins advises defensive driving and giving oneself enough room to bike called the reactionary gap and to use signals on one’s intent of direction. “Being on the road, you’re supposed to be on the right side as far as possible to let traffic get around you. Cars are moving faster than you, so slow down and give yourself space,” Hopkins said.

John Brown, a senior recreational therapy major, regularly rides his bicycle on campus. Brown is also aware of the precautions of being on the road. “You’ve got to be a defensive rider, ride for the next person, always keep your eyes moving and in front of you and avoid target fixation. Most of the time wherever your eyes are, that’s where the bike is going,” Brown said.

Brown rides for the same reason most bikers do: riding a bike on campus is easier to get around than driving a car, it provides exercise and helps with time management. “It’s so much faster than walking and it’s so convenient when I’m running behind,” Brown said.

As the number of bikers on campus continues to increase, safety measures to prevent thefts, injuries and accidents continue to be stressed to those who do and do not ride bikes. UPD is doing its best to warn students and faculty on bike safety.