Friday, June 13, 2008

Looking one way, driving another

A cyclist is about to ride across a busy main highway; there are two lanes westbound, and two lanes eastbound, with a center median or possibly a turn lane.

There is no traffic light, and only a two-way stop; cross traffic does not stop. The cyclist’s plan is to wait for a gap in eastbound traffic, then ride halfway to the relative safety of the center median.

At the same time the cyclist arrives at the south approach stop sign, a car arrives way across on the opposite north side. The car driver plans to cross over the eastbound side and make a left. He does not see the cyclist because he is looking to the left for westbound traffic. (Top picture.)

There is a gap in traffic so the driver does a rolling stop and continues across the two westbound lanes. He still does not see the cyclist because he is now looking to the right for a gap in eastbound traffic.

Meanwhile the cyclist saw a gap in eastbound traffic, and also did a rolling stop. This is his first big mistake and things will only get worse from this point on. He is now in the middle of a two-lane highway and he sees the car for the first time. (Picture below.)

The cyclist is completely screwed at this point, he cannot stop in the middle of the highway with traffic bearing down on him at 60 mph. He should be waving frantically and shouting at the top of his lungs, trying the get the driver’s attention.

The car driver has still not seen the cyclist because he is continuing to look to the right. The driver has seen the same gap in eastbound traffic that the cyclist saw, and he starts to accelerate.

He may glance forward to the southbound approach, but sees no one there because the cyclist has left that spot, and in all probability is in the driver’s blind spot caused by the door pillar and his driving mirrors. The driver is already turning while accelerating, still not looking ahead, and will only realize the cyclist is there when he runs over him. (Below.)

Who is at fault? The car driver of course for failing to see the cyclist, but this is of little consolation the cyclist at this moment. This is sloppy and aggressive driving that is all too common on roads to day. However, cyclists cannot afford to be sloppy.

Had the cyclist come to a complete stop and assessed the whole situation before crossing he would have seen the car on opposite side. He should have not only been looking for a gap in traffic on his side, but also looking at the traffic on the opposite westbound side.

If there was westbound traffic, this would be his safety buffer and the car opposite would not pull out and he would have time to get to the center median.

If the car starts out from the opposite side at the same time the cyclist does, there is no way the cyclist can beat the car to the center. Cars are faster, and the above scenario is very possible.

Don't count on drivers using turn signals; don't assume a car is going straight just because his turn signal is not on.

The cyclist may miss the gap in traffic, and have to wait a little longer, but let the car drivers be in a hurry, a cyclist cannot afford to rush.

Vehicles turning in front of cyclists is the most common bicycle/vehicle accident on roads today and will continue to be if people drive in one direction, while looking in another.

Sloppy, bad driving is not going away anytime soon, so always be on the lookout for situations like this one. Think ahead, ride smart, and ride defensively.

Footnote: Written for US readers. For UK readers and others who ride on the left side of the road, read left for right, and right for left. If possible, copy the pictures and flip to a reverse image.

Readers have asked me in the past, what do I use to make the drawings? I use MS Visio for the line drawings, save the picture as a JPEG, then fill in the colors with Photoshop.


Grump said...

This happen quite often in Illinois because turn signals have become optional here.

WestfieldWanderer said...

Don't count on drivers using turn signals; don't assume a car is going straight just because his turn signal is not on.
Conversely: don't assume a driver is turning just because his turn signal is on!

Anonymous said...

The one evasive option available to the cyclist is to swerve hard to the left as soon as he sees the car begin its turn. This will put him temporarily on the wrong side of the road, but he will be aiming to pass the car in the one spot he knows it will not be going, i.e., the lane it is turning away from. It is always best to avoid such a necessity well in advance, but keeping options like this in mind can save your life. Val

Gary Burkholder said...

At first when I started reading this, I had to think: "If a train leaves a station at 12am and travels with 20 passengers at a rate of 60mph and another train going the same way leaves at 2:15am carrying 15 ..."

All kidding aside, the post is spot on. It reminds me of a time I was about to roll a stop sign at what I thought was a 4-way stop in a residential area close to home. The prior intersections had all been 4-way and I was approaching this one at the same time as a car. The car was slowing and I would have beat it to the intersection and then had the right of way at the 4-way.

There was a problem though, the intersection was only a 2-way stop, and the car was slowing for a turn not because it was stopping. I realized this right before it was too late and before entering the intersection, but the outcome could have been pretty bad had I not.

Taking a little bit of time out of the day or ride to make that stop might be time that is recouped over and over if it avoids a bad outcome.

Anonymous said...

One of the keys to avoiding an accident in this scenario is to see the eye movement and the direction of looks by the driver. This has become a more difficult as many more cars/SUVs now have dark, tinted windows.

The problems are compounded with two or more vehicles each racing to beat the increasingly crowded roadways. In many situations where I live, the island has become a left-turn only lane which totally dilutes the possibility of a safe zone.

The situations are even more complicated when riding with children where numerous commercial exits and intersections are within a short distances of each other.

Fiasco said...

i love the illustrations!

Anonymous said...

You question "Who is at fault?" I say, whoever "signed" the roadway. Or should I say failed to properly place "stop" signs in the center median.You didn't state the width of the center median,and I have seen them signed and not. But I never assume I have been seen! I have personally been in this exact situation and actually waved at the driver, had them wave back and then turn right in front of me. Never assume the driver sees you!