It’s World Car-Free Day—a perfect day to try cycling to or from work.

But while cycling is an environmentally friendly and healthy way to get around, cyclists die at twice the rate of motor-vehicle occupants, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The first step to staying safe while cycling is to wear a helmet. (Consumer Reports rates the best ones here.) But if you haven’t ridden in a while, there’s more you need to know if you want to stay safe on the road.

We consulted with the League of American Bicyclists (a cycling advocacy nonprofit) as well as Bob Mionske, an attorney and the author of "Bicycling and the Law: Your Rights as a Cyclist" to create the following cheat sheet. It will help bring you up to speed on how to signal, which laws you need to follow, and what else you need to know to ride safely

Ride on the Street, Preferably in a Bike Lane

The law generally treats cyclists as vehicles, not pedestrians, according to Mionske. That means using the road (not the sidewalk), and moving in the same direction as traffic. (In most states, local ordinances restrict sidewalk use to child cyclists only.)

“Cyclists have the right to the road in all 50 states,” Mionske says, and cars are usually required to give cyclists a buffer of roughly 3 to 5 feet when they pass.

That said, whenever there’s a bike lane, you should use it. “It’s usually safer than riding with traffic, and definitely safer than the sidewalk in cities,” he says.

In the suburbs, sidewalks might feel safer. But Steve Taylor, head of communications at the League of American Bicyclists, says that might not be the case.

Drivers pulling in and out of their driveway “may not be looking for a cyclist on the sidewalk moving 10 to 12 miles per hour,” Taylor says. And “on a bike, you can’t stop as quickly to avoid that kind of accident as you can when you’re on foot.” 

Stay Alert

A bike bell can alert pedestrians, other bikers, and sometimes drivers to your presence, and it’s frequently required by law, Taylor says. Even when it’s not, “it’s a universal way to communicate with pedestrians that there's a bike coming, especially on shared-use bike and pedestrian paths, where someone might be wearing headphones.”

Speaking of which, says Taylor: Never wear headphones while riding. It’s often illegal, and you need to be tuned to the sounds of other riders as well as fast-approaching cars and trucks.

Be mindful of runners, children, and people walking their dogs, and be extra cautious when approaching intersections. “If getting through an intersection is stressful, you can eliminate that stress entirely by becoming a pedestrian and just walking your bike at very busy junctions,” Taylor suggests. 

Don't Forget to Signal

Signaling laws vary from state to state, but you can usually signal a right turn by sticking your right arm straight out to the right, and a left turn by sticking your left arm straight out to the left, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the League of American Bicyclists.

In some states, you can also signal a right turn by putting your left arm straight out, then bending it up at the elbow so your arm forms a 90 degree angle with your palm facing forward. 

You can show you’re coming to a stop or slowing down by extending your left arm out and bending at the elbow so your forearm is down with your palm facing rearward. This is especially important to prevent pileups with other cyclists who might be following you on a crowded bike path.

The important thing, however, is to practice so you’re comfortable steering one-handed and signaling. It’s also smart to look behind you to make eye contact with drivers so they see you signaling.  

Wear a Helmet!

The law doesn’t usually say that adults have to wear helmets, but in addition to setting an example for your children, Taylor stresses that you’re far safer wearing a helmet.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, wearing a helmet reduces head injuries by about 50 percent, and just 17 percent of cyclists killed in recent years were wearing a helmet.

Taylor says that you should think about helmets like you think about the seat belts in your car. Wear them every time, no matter where you’re riding or how far. 

“You can’t choose to wear helmets just some of the time, because you never know when you’ll need them to save your life,” he says.  

Consumer Reports’ latest bicycle helmet ratings include 16 recommended adult models, including the Scott Arx Plus, $125, the Bell Muni, $65, and the Bell Draft, $40.

Sharing the Road With Cyclists

Whether you're a cyclist or a driver, there are several things to keep in mind when you're on the road. On the "Consumer 101" TV show, Consumer Reports' experts Mike Monticello and Jon Linkov offer to host Jack Rico tips for drivers and cyclists to safely coexist.