This is a guest post from attorney Ray Thomas, who represents injured cyclists.
Sharing the road with motorists can be frightening, especially if you live in an area where drivers don’t consider bicycles as legitimate vehicles. I often hear bicyclists say they’d like to incorporate cycling more into their everyday lives, but they just don’t feel safe riding alongside high-speed traffic.
Many states are increasingly enacting laws that help establish and protect the rights of cyclists. While these laws can provide critical legal resource in the event of a collision, they don’t necessarily prevent such accidents from happening. Instead, the onus is still on the cyclist to be aware of how these collisions occur and get proactive about preventing them.
Here’s a look at three of the most common types of bicycling accidents – and how savvy cyclists avoid them:
1. Hit by a right-turning car (aka the Right Hook).
When making a right turn – whether at a stoplight or into a driveway – motorists often fail to look for bicyclists who may be coming up from behind. What’s worse, many drivers nowadays will simply turn suddenly, without signaling, giving the cyclist no advance warning. Whether you’re riding in a bike lane, on the road or on the sidewalk, it’s always safest to assume motorists traveling in the right lane may turn right at any time.
There are two things you can do to prevent this type of collision. First, when you’re at a stoplight next to a car in the right lane, stop either just in front of the car (out of the motorist’s blind spot) to make sure you’ll be seen, or just behind the car so you can gauge whether the driver is going to turn right. Second, never pass a slow-moving vehicle on the right. Instead, wait for an opportunity to pass on the left, assuming it’s legal to do so in your city. Having a rearview mirror on your bike is invaluable for this.
2. Smacked by a car door.
Street parking is another common hazard for cyclists. Many drivers who park by the curb will simply open up the car door without thinking to check for approaching cyclists. Often the cyclist has no time to react, or cannot safely swerve left to avoid the door.
If you’re riding on a street with curbside parking, it’s wise to stay on the alert for vehicles that have just parked or have people inside them. That way, at least you have enough warning to give these cars a wider berth. Again, a rearview mirror is also a valuable tool, as it allows you to continually monitor the traffic behind you so you know whether it’s safe to swerve in a pinch.
3. Hit by a left-turning car (aka the Left Cross).
You and a motorist are approaching an intersection from opposite directions. The motorist either doesn’t see you or misjudges your speed and decides to suddenly turn left just as you cross the intersection. This can be one of the most difficult types of accidents to avoid, because cyclists often simply don’t see it coming.
The important thing here is to make yourself as visible as possible to motorists. For starters, don’t cross an intersection by riding from the sidewalk into the crosswalk, as this makes it even harder for motorists turning left to see you. Instead, stay as far to the left as you safely can; if possible, consider taking up the entire lane as you cross the intersection. Also, by being aware of this type of hazard, you can adjust your speed while traveling through intersections in order to allow yourself to brake quickly if needed.
Defensive cycling skills can take time and practice to develop. However, hyper-awareness coupled with the ability to think quickly and plan an escape route can go a long way toward preventing collisions.
Ray Thomas, a founding partner of the Portland law firm Swanson, Thomas, Coon & Newton, applies his personal injury litigation expertise to the area of bicycle and pedestrian law in the state of Oregon.