We write a lot on this blog about motorcycle safety, but this tragic story from Raleigh yesterday reminded us that we need to be putting out more information on riding you bicycle safely around town. After some online research, we found Michael Bluejay’s website with his Top Ten Ways to Not Get Hit While Riding a Bicycle. We’ll share the top two here on the blog and provide a link to the final eight tips:
Collision Type #1: The Right Cross
This is the most common way to get hit (or almost get hit).(source1, source2) A car is pulling out of a side street, parking lot, or driveway on the right. Notice that there are actually two possible kinds of collisions here: Either you’re in front of the car and the car hits you, or the car pulls out in front of you and you slam into it.Here are 4 ways to avoid this kind of collision:
- Get a headlight. If you’re riding at night, you absolutely should be using a front headlight. It’s required by law, anyway. Even for daytime riding, a bright white light that has a flashing mode can make you more visible to motorists who might otherwise Right Cross you. Look for the new LED headlights which last ten times as long on a set of batteries as old-style lights. And headlamps (mounted on your head or helmet) are the best, because then you can look directly at the driver to make sure they see your light.
- Wave. If you can’t make eye contact with the driver, wave your arm. It’s easier for them to see your arm going left and right than it is for them to see a bicycle coming straight towards them. You could also use a loud horn (like the Air Zound) to get drivers’ attention. If it looks like the driver is about to pull out without seeing you, yell “Hey!” You may feel awkward waving or yelling, but it’s better to be embarrassed than to get hit. Incidentally, many countries require bells on bicycles, but the U.S. doesn’t.
- Slow down. If you can’t make eye contact with the driver (especially at night), slow down so much that you’re able to completely stop if you have to. Sure, it’s inconvenient, but it beats getting hit. Doing this has saved my life on too many occasions to count.
- Ride further left. You’re probably used to riding in the “A” line in the picture, very close to the curb, because you’re worried about being hit from behind. But take a look at the car. When that driver is looking down the road for traffic, he’s not looking in the bike lane or the area closest to the curb; he’s looking in the middle of the lane, for other cars. The farther left you are (such as in “B”), the more likely the driver will see you. There’s an added bonus here: if the motorist doesn’t see you and starts pulling out, you may be able to go even farther left, or may be able to speed up and get out of the way before impact, or easily roll onto their hood as they slam on their brakes. In short, it gives you some options. Because if you stay all the way to the right and they pull out, your only “option” may be to run right into the driver’s side door. Using this method has saved me on three occasions in which a motorist ran into me slowly as they hit their brakes and I wasn’t hurt, and in which I definitely would have slammed into the driver’s side door had I not moved left.
You might worry that moving left makes you more vulnerable to cars coming from behind. But the stats say you’re far more likely to get hit by a car at an intersection ahead of you that can’t see you, than from a car behind you which can see you clearly. So while both positions have risk, you generally reduce your risk by riding a little farther left. Your actual lane position depends on road conditions. On fast roadways with few cross streets (and thus less chances to get hit at intersections), you’ll ride farther to the right. On slow roads with many cross streets, you’ll ride farther left. See lane position for more about this.
Collision Type #2: The Door Prize
A driver opens his door right in front of you. You run right into it if you can’t stop in time. This kind of crash is more common than you might think: It’s the second-most common car-bike crash in Toronto,(source) and the #1 crash Santa Barbara.(source) We’ve compiled a huge list of cyclists killed by running into open car doors.
How to avoid this type of collision:
- Ride to the left. Ride far enough to the left that you won’t run into any door that’s opened unexpectedly. You may be wary about riding so far into the lane that cars can’t pass you easily, but you’re more likely to get doored by a parked car if you ride too close to it than you are to get hit from behind by a car which can see you clearly.
For eight more ways to not get hit while riding your bicycle, please check out Michael Bluejay’s website on Bicycle Safety.