For a new bicyclist, the sidewalk often appears to be the safest place to ride. They like having extra distance between them and the cars on the street.

However, if you tell a seasoned cyclist that you’re safer on the sidewalk, they’re probably going to tell you that the opposite is true. They’ll say that you should ride in the street (in the bike lane, if there is one) and that using the sidewalk just increases your risks of being injured. Is this true and, if so, why?

You should ride on the side of the street or in the bike lane rather than on the sidewalk, even if that feels counter-intuitive. The odds that a car driving up behind your bike will hit you are actually fairly small. You do eliminate that risk by riding on the sidewalk, but most accidents don’t happen that way.

Instead, accidents happen when cars cross through a cyclist’s path at a perpendicular angle. For instance, in accidents where a driver was pulling out of a driveway or an alley and hit a cyclist, nearly half (48%) of those cyclists were on the sidewalk. In accidents that happened when drivers made a left turn in front of a bike, causing a side impact, 42% of the cyclists were on the sidewalk.

It’s clear that motorists expect cyclists to be on the street and often do not even look for them on the sidewalk. The confusion and chaos that this creates makes accidents more likely.

Even if you follow all traffic laws and ride safely, though, you could get injured in an accident. Make sure you know what rights you have to compensation if you do.