With many cyclists on the roads -- the same roads occupied by many motor vehicles that are larger, heavier and faster than bicycles -- defensive driving applies to both cyclists and drivers.

By obeying traffic laws, we not only avoid collisions with automobiles, but we also avoid crashing into each other.

Despite what some may think, there is no special exemption to the law for cyclists. In fact, many accidents occur because a cyclist fails to stop at a stop sign, does not signal at an intersection or runs through a red traffic light. Just as cyclists expect motorists to abide by traffic laws, they, too, expect you to follow them.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 500,000 people in the United States are treated in emergency rooms and more than 700 people die as a result of bicycle-related injuries every year.

Taking precautions in traffic, maintaining your bicycle properly and wearing protective equipment are clearly a cyclist's best defense against unintentional injuries. The following suggestions are offered to help make cycling fun and safe:

Pre-ride Checklist

* Before you start out on the road or dirt trail, it's important to be prepared. Like many other skills, riding skills are perishable. Your riding skills may not be as sharp in May as they were in November when you last rode your bicycle. And don't forget to consider the roadworthiness of your bicycle. Just because it was OK when you put it up last fall doesn't mean it is road ready now.

* A quick check of your bicycle before riding can help prevent those long walks home. It only takes about two minutes. Make it a habit and your chances of a breakdown are greatly reduced.

* Check the quick-release levers. Make sure your quick-release levers are installed correctly on your wheels and are properly tightened. A runaway wheel is a nasty surprise.

* Bounce the bicycle. Pick up your bike four or five inches off the ground and bounce it once or twice. Listen for unusual rattles; they can indicate loose parts about to fall off.

* Check the brakes. Check the front and rear brakes separately. Give the levers a good squeeze to make sure they are tight and the cable is fastened securely.

* Spin the wheels. Lift the front of the bicycle off the ground an inch or so and spin the front wheel. It should spin freely with no brake rub and should be relatively true. Listen for grinding sounds in the hub that indicate the need for maintenance. Do the same for the rear wheel.

* Check the cranks. Make sure the crank bolts are tight and the chain rings are true and are not missing any teeth.

* Check the headset. Hold the front brake down and gently rock the bicycle forward and back. A loose or worn bearing will make a distinct click. Tighten or service if necessary.

* Check the tires. Make sure your tires have the correct amount of air pressure and examine them for rips, tears or sharp objects stuck into the tread. Check brake and derailleur cables for fraying.

* Check the handlebars. Make sure the handlebars and stem are fastened securely. Visually examine the handlebars for bends or cracks. If you find any, replace immediately. For more information about bicycle safety, call the Installation Safety Office at 301-677-2396.

Soundoff! is working in conjunction with the Installation Safety Office throughout the 101 Critical Days of Summer Safety Campaign in publishing a series of summer safety tips and articles.

Tips for Safe Biking

* Wear a helmet.

* Obey traffic rules.

* Adult cyclists should never ride on sidewalks.

* Stay alert.

* Wear a reflective vest or a safety triangle.

* Make sure your bicycle has the right safety equipment.