A confluence of factors is driving more and more motorists to leave the car keys at home and take a bicycle or walk to their destinations. For one thing, gasoline prices are hovering around $4 a gallon in some places. For another, being "green" is trendy, and more cities are adding bike lanes to roads.
A recent study gives another reason for ditching the car for a bike, even if only for some trips.
The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, suggests that a tiny reduction in the extremely small particulate matter generated by vehicles could reduce pulmonary and cardiovascular issues, which affect more than 8 percent of Americans. In other words, fewer cars on the road means healthier air. The benefits were enough for Scott Spak, an author of the study, to suggest that "hundreds of lives could be saved due to a reduction of emission of fine particulate matter."
How often would Americans have to ride bikes (instead of driving cars) to reap these benefits? According to the study, they would simply have to opt for a bike instead of a car for half of their short trips.
Still not convinced? Using your bike also could save money. That's because your auto insurance premium is determined partly by how often you drive. You've probably noticed that when you fill out an auto insurance application, you're asked how long your commute is.
Car insurance companies know that the more you're on the road, the more likely you are to get in an accident. So, if you drive less, you'll likely pay less, too. According to the Insurance Information Network of California, cutting 5,000 miles off your yearly mileage could save $500 a year on car insurance in California.
Pay-as-you-drive insurance policies also might motivate more motorists to leave their cars in the garage. With this type of insurance, you generally pay a premium that lasts for a certain number of miles. Once you exceed that mileage, you have to buy new coverage. So using your bike more often means you'll have to renew your car insurance coverage less often.
Other pay-as-you-drive programs involve attaching a small monitoring device to your car. This device keeps track of your mileage so that your car insurance company can keep track of how much to charge you. Riding a bike would decrease your car's mileage -- and your premium as well.