Before we begin, this isn’t an anti-driving post. We’re not lambasting drivers. As much as drivers need to be more cyclist-aware, follow road rules and drive safely, vice versa also applies!
Here are our top tips to help cyclists and car drivers avoid conflict on our roads.
Learn to share
As a car driver you may think the road belongs to you, but nobody owns the road. Everyone has a right to pass and re-pass on public highways. By law, a bicycle is a vehicle, so treat it like one.
Appreciate that cyclists are helping you
Counter-intuitive to what you may believe, cyclists actually reduce congestion on the roads by not driving cars. They ‘re reducing the time you spend in traffic jams as they’re taking up so much less space. Cyclists have a phrase for this, often seen on t-shirts and posters: One Less Car.
Avoid ‘dooring’ cyclists
Dooring means to open your door (deliberately or accidentally) into a cyclist riding past. Did you know it’s illegal? It can also be fatal, and happens more than you’d expect. Don’t open any doors without checking there aren’t any cyclists behind you.
You could easily sweep them clean off their bikes and it won’t be pretty. Think about the width of your door when it’s open; you easily have a 1-1.5m mobile barrier swinging into the road each time you get in or out of the car.
Realise cyclists are vulnerable
You’re driving a vehicle hugely heavier and more powerful than theirs. In any impact, they will be the losers. Perhaps it’s best we take after most other European countries which operate a ‘strict liability’ rule. These regulations result in the motorist’s insurance usually being deemed to be responsible in any crash involving a cyclist. In the same way that a cyclist would be at fault in a smash with a pedestrian.
With the driver always at fault in any accident, drivers tend to become more cautious around cyclists.
Helmets don’t equal guaranteed safety
Of course helmets are worth wearing, but car drivers need to recognise that cyclists are still vulnerable, even when wearing protective gear.
Most cycle helmets are designed to withstand head-on impacts at speeds less than 13mph. Some cyclists choose not wear to wear helmets and a UK study showed these are given more caution by drivers. A cyclist with a helmet, however, is by no means invincible.
Exercise some caution and be patient
90% of cyclist casualties in recent years were caused by careless inattention, firstly by drivers, secondly by cyclists (according to nidirect.gov.uk). It’s your responsibility to avoid hitting cyclists, not the responsibility of the cyclist to avoid getting hit by you.
Pay attention and be on the lookout for cyclists at all times, especially when reversing. Use your mirrors because cyclists may overtake slow-moving traffic on either side. They may sometimes need to change direction suddenly, so just be aware of this and observe any indications they give such as looking over their shoulder (called a lifesaver check). Don’t tempt them into taking risks or endanger them.
Allow plenty of space
When overtaking a cyclist you’re required to give them as much room as you would a car. They may need to swerve to avoid hazards. Always anticipate that there may be a pothole, oily, wet or icy patch or some other obstruction.
Don’t drive too closely behind a cyclist because you may not be able to stop in time if they come off their bike or do something abruptly. Unless you have an entire clear, empty lane in which to pass, slow down and wait until there is room to pass. Pass them slowly!
Drive slowly on low-vis roads
On rural roads or those with limited visibility remember that a cyclist could be around the next corner. It could also be an elderly person, a child, an animal or a tractor turning into a field. Reducing your speed reduces the risk of something happening.
You can’t see ahead of hills and curves, so slow down when you’re not sure what’s on the other side. Make sure you can stop the car in half the distance you can see to be clear. At night the need to do so is more exaggerated.
Cyclists have a right to claim the lane
Cyclists have as much right as you do to take up the entire lane. You may think they’re being utterly selfish by doing so, but in fact they’re preventing having an accident. They really aren’t trying to slow you down, it’s just the safest way for them to cycle particularly if there’s a blind bend, a narrowing of the road, a high risk junction, pinch point or traffic lights ahead. Additionally if there’s a narrowing of the road, they’re stopping you squeezing through far too cosily beside them.
Cyclists should never cycle in the gutter because it gives no room for avoiding obstacles and leaves them no room to fall if an accident occurs, meaning they could go straight under your wheels – which isn’t terribly good for either party.
Beware a left turn
Most car vs bike accidents occur near left-hand turns. A cyclist may sneak up, perfectly legally, beside you while you’re waiting impatiently at a red light. It’s not at all illegal for cyclists to filter on the left or right of lanes but it is often difficult to spot them, especially when hidden in your blind spots. You’ll hit the cyclist as they carry straight on and you’ve made a left turn into them. Also be vigilant when pulling out of side streets and car parks.
Get on a bike!
Not until you experience what it’s like to be a cyclist on a busy road will you truly be able to empathise with them and realise how careless drivers can be at times. Cyclists can also be careless, but it usually ends in them getting hurt, not you!Chris Gidney is a keen cyclist and technician at SRAM.