Friday, March 09, 2007

Lessons in defensive riding, learned the hard way

Statistics show that the most common bicycle/vehicle accident is caused by drivers turning left in front of an oncoming bicycle. (In the UK this would be a driver turning right.) This is exactly what happened in my accident.

When you think about it and analyze the situation there is a reason why this type of accident is common. The driver is sitting waiting for a gap in oncoming traffic so they can make the turn. When that gap appears they are going to move very quickly, it may only be a very small gap.

They don’t see the oncoming cyclist because he/she is hidden behind other traffic, especially if the last vehicle before the gap is a large commercial van or truck. The driver is watching that vehicle and the next one some distance down the road, not thinking there might be a cyclist between the two.

Once the driver has started the turn they are no longer looking down the road for other traffic, but rather are looking in the direction they are headed.

If they do see the cyclist at the last moment, slamming on the brakes will only place a stationary vehicle in the path of the cyclist instead of a moving one. The fact they don’t see the cyclist is no excuse, there could also be a pedestrian or a child riding a bicycle on the sidewalk. “Look twice, save a life” is a motor cyclist safety slogan, that applies equally to the bicycle rider.

Here are some defensive riding practices I will be using in the future:

1. I will be on the lookout for drivers waiting to make a left turn.

2. I will make a mental note of where they are and when I reach that spot, if I can’t see them, they probably can’t see me.

3. Depending on circumstances like speed and density of traffic, I may make the decision to move out into the traffic lane to a position where I can see them and they can see me.

4. If I hear a vehicle directly behind me, it is reasonably safe to say there is no gap in traffic and they will not turn.

5. If there is no traffic immediately behind me, and traffic is slow moving, I may speed up to stay close the vehicle ahead of me.

6. If 3, 4, and 5 don’t apply, I will assume the vehicle is going to turn and I will be prepared to stop. I will be watching the vehicle’s front wheels for any sign of movement.

This being the most common bicycle mishap, if you can avoid this one, you greatly reduce the odds of your being involved in an accident. In addition, this is a good one to avoid as it has the potential for serious injury.

Before my accident, I never paid much attention to this issue. I am hoping what happened to me will cause others to think about this serious problem, and avoid going through what I had to.

Should you be unfortunate enough to be involved in an accident Kent's Bike Blog has some good advice.

It’s a jungle out there, ride safe.


Jim N said...

It makes sense that this is a common accident, as well, because at that moment the turning driver is both accelerating and looking at oncoming traffic, not where his car is going.

This sort of situation is made more dangerous by two recent developments in car fashion: SUVs, which are harder to see around (we used to be above the roofs of the cars) and blindingly bright headllights which make visibility worse at night and make it harder to judge the speed and distance of an oncoming car.

Coelecanth said...

Good advice.

This looking one way while moving the other phenomenon is also resposible for right turn collisions. Drivers waiting to turn right onto a high traffic street are looking left for the gaps, it's the reason to take the lane at big intersections and to never sneek up on the right of the waiting cars.

Ed W said...

I hadn't thought about it from the viewpoint of a left-turning driver, Dave, but it does make sense to move further into the traffic lane both for visibility and in order to give yourself more maneuvering room.

We have a Road1 class in Tulsa tomorrow. I'll bring it up with the other instructors.

sasquatch2 said...

thanks for the tip, I'll keep an eye out for that one as I luckily haven't learned that one for myself yet after 1 year commuting. One that baffles me still even after significantly lowering my expectations for drivers is the right turn as the driver slowly passes by on your left (I'm in right lane or shoulder) and cuts you off. Apparently not realizing that a moving moving??? I have loudly pounded on the windows of at least 3 SUVs which have done this, even though I feel like kicking in a fender or two! The problem is definitely NOT a lack of visibility as they are passing from behind, I've even made eye contact with one of the fools.

Keep up the good fight!

Anonymous said...

When I see a potential accident in front of me, I always attempt to make some eye contact with the driver. It is not always possible, but it often seems that people almost always react to being stared at. I glue my eyes to that person's face. Sometimes it creeps them out, but I always look for that little sign that they know I'm there. If I do not get that impression, I assume they do not see me.