FACT: A cyclist is more vulnerable in an accident than the vast majority of roadway users, who are cocooned away in their big, secure, padded, air-bagged steel cocoons. In fact, we need to avoid a collision, because it will almost certainly result in at least injury, and possibly death.
I've had a few accidents over the years. But my last one of any consequence was probably 5-6 years and 30,000 miles ago. Thankfully, I've never been seriously injured. So - I must be doing something right, or you'd be reading "He loved his bicycle" on my tombstone!
Besides being a dedicated tranportation cyclist, I ride a motorcycle. And every few years I take the "Advanced Rider" refresher course offered by Idaho Star (highly recommended, if you putt-putt). Many of the hazards - and survival skills - are remarkably similar for bicyclists and motorcyclists. I'm a better bicyclist because I ride a motorcycle... and I'm a much better motorcyclist because I do so much bike riding.
The Motorcycle Safety Foundation, and the Idaho STAR program, teach a technique called SIPDE.
Kind of a stupid acronym. But strangely, I've remembered it. (Usually I can only remember totally trivial stuff!)
S - SCAN... keep eyes constantly moving... look up the road as far as you can see
I - IDENTIFY potential hazards
P - PREDICT the behavior of those hazards; determine worst-case scenario
D - DECIDE on your best course of action
E - EXECUTE
I've found that if I can think about doing the "scan" thing, the rest automatically follows, unless I'm totally on "automatic pilot." (I love to think about anything and everything while I'm riding... but I try to dedicate some of that central-processing power to SIPDE.)
SCAN! It's actually a heady experience to "get in the survival-mode scan zone" - eyes constantly moving about, watching for lurking danger.
Anything that is moving - or might start moving - is a potential hazard.
Anything that's big enough to hide something moving is a potential hazard.
If the hazard is not moving - curb, parked car, road debris, etc. ... well, if you can't avoid it, maybe you better stick to walking (with a football helmet on!). (Watch the cars parked alongside the road! Look for heads inside. They can suddenly be not parked... or a door can fly open into your path.)
The sooner you see that hazard, the more time you have to do the "..IPDE" thing.
Including your peripheral vision, unless you're wearing some totally stylin' sunglasses, you can probably see 180 degrees or more. Concentrate on what's ahead, but have those side-motion-detectors in full function.
I always use - and strongly recommend - a rear-view mirror. I feel vulnerable without it. (It makes all the difference when riding in traffic.) Mine is helmet-mounted, but if you don't like that, you can get 'em frame, or handlebar, or sunglass-mounted. Besides a helmet, I'd say a rearview is the best money you can spend on safety gear.
Another benefit I've realized by "scanning" up the road is... my stops are minimized.
By observing up-ahead trafffic lights, pedestrian walk/wait lights, how many cars are already waiting, etc., it's much easier to predict when my light will be green. Using that, and a few other "veteran tricks," I can frequently make my entire commute nonstop. (Which is way cooler than those Car-Bozos who win every stoplight-to-stoplight drag race!)
Side Note... Besides SEE, I'd also recommend HEAR.
I take great comfort in being able to hear other roadway users.
I've got an "iPod-like device" - the poor man's model - that I very occasionally wear when I'm cycling. But only when I'm on a dedicated bike path like the Greenbelt, or in very light traffic with unlimited visibility, like out on Gowen Road. (Hearing-impaired and no-rearview? Fuggeddaboudit!) I see people riding nonchalantly along in heavy traffic with their buds jammed in their ears, and it makes me hope their friends won't be reading "He loved his bicycle and Eminem" on their tombstones! Exercise some judgment! The stakes are mighty high. There is a time and place for righteous tunes.
(Of course, if one of those big diesel pickups is within a quarter-mile or so... or one of those Bozos on his "Loud Pipes Save Lives" motorcycles is roaring down the street... you can hear them loud-and-clear, earbuds or not.)
Photo credit: Jim Emery (http://www.jimemery.com/)