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February 16, 2012
Since I’m a cyclist and a motorist I’m quite aware of my surroundings when driving my car. I know when a cyclist is near, I can usually predict their behaviour, and I give them lots of room while passing. It would be nice if everyone thought that way, but the reality is they don’t. However, there’s still the odd time when get caught out by a cyclist seems to come from nowhere. Yesterday, I nearly car-doored someone.
I was driving along, passed a cyclist, turned onto a side street, parallel parked, and got out of my car. Unfortunately the cyclist also turned down the same street and ended up passing me at the same time I was opening my car door. If I hadn’t turned I would have known that the cyclist would be coming up behind me and I would have been more careful. However, I thought no one was near me and had no idea there was a cyclist behind.
The cyclist was irate. I obviously empathised with him and knew I had made a mistake, but at the same time he was riding within a few inches of a car that just parked and took no responsibility for his own actions which nearly got him seriously injured. I can’t think of many worse things than getting car-doored so I can see why he gave me a mouthful, but not everyone thinks the same way.
Most of the guys I choose to ride with are excellent at negotiating the traffic. We’ll often wait at red lights and nod, or say g’day to the driver next to us. If someone lets us in, a simple wave is all it takes. It’s simple social etiquette. We know that most of the vehicles don’t know how to anticipate our actions so we need to predict theirs. We rarely get into any dangerous or heated situations with motorists because we know how to stay out of trouble. However, I often see riders have near misses or accidents because they assume that they have the right of way and that motorists will always see them. Even I find that cyclists will come out from nowhere when I’m in a vehicle. Can you imagine a motorist the who doesn’t have cyclists in the front of their mind? There are many times where I’m driving my car while following a cyclist with headphones and no clue what’s going on around him and I think to myself, “buddy, you are within inches of being killed”.
A few tips on how to stay out of trouble:
>>> Ride confidently, but never ever assume that a vehicle pulling out of a side street going through a roundabout sees you. Just because you have the right of way does not mean that you’ll always be seen. When I see a car pulling up from a side street I’ll usually move to the middle of my lane so that I have a way to get out of trouble in case he pulls out.
>>> When riding along side parked cars always look for brake lights, movement in the driver’s seat or the rear view mirror. If you can see that a vehicle has just parked, it’s a good sign that someone will be opening their door very soon. Give yourself a meter of room so if you see a door opening you don’t have to swerve very far.
>>> Keep a particularly close eye out for taxis and delivery vehicles. They’ll always be looking for addresses and make unexpected moves without any notice. They’re just doing their jobs and the last thing on their mind are cyclists.
>>> Never pass a vehicle on the inside (left in Australia) when approaching an intersection.
>>> Never ride in the blind spot of a vehicle. At any moment he or she could turn left. This is the equivalent of overlapping wheels with Jens Voigt. You know who’s gonna come out second best.
>>> You’re crazy if you ride with headphones in. I know some of you insist that it’s safe, but every time I avoid a situation by something I pick up with my ears, I think about the guys with music playing who would have been oblivious to it. The majority of my road awareness comes from my hearing, not my sight.
Yes it’s up to motorists to be aware and look out for you, but in the end you’re the one responsible for your own riding and you’ll never win when you get in an accident with a vehicle, no matter who’s at fault. If you simply ride as if everyone around you is blind, deaf and dumb, then you’ll avoid 99% of incidents.
P.S. My intent is not to turn this into a cyclist vs drivers debate. It never goes anywhere…
Damn motorists getting in the way of a good descent!
…and if you think you’re not invisible, here’s a good video to demonstrate how we appear to many motorists.