How Not To Get Hit By Cars
Some common situations cyclists can have with cars and ways to avoid an accident with a careless driver.
This is a far cry
from normal bicycle safety guides, which usually tell you
little more than to wear your helmet and to follow the law.
But consider this for a moment: Wearing a helmet will do
absolutely nothing to prevent you from getting hit by a
car! Sure, helmets might help you if you get hit,
it’s a good idea to wear one, but your #1 [[image:right-hook2.gif::inline:1]] goal should be
to avoid getting hit in the first place. Plenty of
cyclists are killed by cars even though they were wearing
helmets. Ironically, if they had ridden without
helmets, yet followed the guidelines listed below, they
might still be alive today. Don’t confuse wearing a helmet
with biking safely. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound
of cure. It’s better to not get hit. That’s what real
bicycle safety is about.
As for following the law, most
people are already aware that it’s stupid to race through a
red light when there’s cross traffic, so the “follow the
law” advice isn’t that helpful because it’s too obvious.
What you’ll find here are several scenarios that maybe
AREN’T that obvious.
The other problem with the “follow
the law” message is that people may think that’s all they
need to do. But following the law is not enough to keep you
safe, not by a long shot. Here’s an example: The law tells
you to ride as far to the right as is practicable. But when riding too far to the right, someone exiting a parked car
could open their
door right in front of you, you’ll be less visible to
motorists pulling out of driveways and parking lots, and
motorists coming from behind may pass you way too closely in
the same lane because you didn’t make them change lanes. In
each of these cases you could have been following the law,
but could still have been hit.
Obviously, cruising through a stop
sign when there’s no cross traffic isn’t necessarily
dangerous, but we can’t recommend that you do so, because
it’s against the law, not because it’s unsafe. You
should understand the difference. By all means follow the
law, but understand why you’re doing so. This page doesn’t
focus on the law, it focuses on how to not get hit by cars.
Now let’s see how to do
THE RIGHT CROSS
is one of the most common ways to get hit (or almost get
hit). 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.
How to avoid this
1. Get a headlight.
If you’re riding at night, you should absolutely use 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
helmet- or head-mounted lights are the best, because then
you can look directly at the driver to make sure they
see your light.
Honk. Get a loud
horn and USE IT whenever you see a car
approaching (or waiting) ahead of you and to the right. If
you don’t have a horn, then yell “Hey!” You may feel awkward
honking or yelling, but it’s better to be embarrassed than
to get hit.
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
4. Ride further left.
Notice the two blue lines
“A” and “B” in the diagram. You’re probably used to riding
in “A”, very close to the curb, because you’re worried about
being hit from behind. But take a look at the car. When that
motorist 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 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 and I wasn’t
hurt, and in which I definitely would have slammed into the
driver’s side door had I not moved left.
Of course, there’s a tradeoff.
Riding to the far right makes you invisible to the motorists
ahead of you at intersections, but riding to the left makes
you more vulnerable to the cars behind you. Your actual lane
position may vary depending on how wide the street is, how
many cars there are, how fast and how close they pass you,
and how far you are from the next intersection. On fast
roadways with few cross streets, you’ll ride farther to the
right, and on slow roads with many cross streets, you’ll
ride farther left.
THE DOOR ZONE
driver opens his door right in front of you. You run right
smack into the open door if you can’t stop in time.
This is one of the most easliy avoidable accidents as well as one of
the most potentially deadly accidents. Often times a cyclist who
is “doored” is thrown into oncoming traffic, either by attempting to
swerve and avoid the door, or by hitting the door and being propelled
off the bike and into traffic.
How to avoid this
Ride to the left.
Ride far enough to the left that you won’t run into any door
that’s opened unexpectedly, generally four to five feet. An
open door can even clip the tip of your handle bar causing the bike to
steer right into oncoming traffic. GIVE YOURSELF ROOM to avoid this.
You may be wary about riding so
far into the lane that cars can’t pass you easily, but
you’re MUCH 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 that can clearly see you. If you must ride close to parked
cars for any reason, ride slowly, giving your self enough time to stop
suddenly and safely. Look into cars to see if anyone is sitting inside,
but don’t make assumptions no one is. Sometimes drivers can lean down
to grab something and then suddenly pop up and open that car door right
in front of you.
THE RED LIGHT OF DOOM
stop to the right of a car that’s already waiting at a red
light or stop sign. They can’t see you. When the light turns
green, you move forward, and then they unexpectedy turn right, right
into you. Even small cars can do you in this way, but
this scenario is especially dangerous when it’s a bus or a
semi that you’re stopping next to.
How to avoid this
Don’t stop in the blind
spot. Simply stop BEHIND a car, instead of to the
right of it, as per the diagram below. This makes you very
visible to traffic on all sides. It’s impossible for the car
behind you to avoid seeing you when you’re right in front of
option is to stop at either point A in the diagram above
(where the first driver can see you), or at point B, behind
the first car so it can’t turn into you, and far enough
ahead of the second car so that the second driver can see
you clearly. It does no good to avoid stopping to the right
of the first car if you’re going to make the mistake of
stopping to the right of the second car. EITHER car can do
[[image:red-light-take-lane.gif::inline:1]] If you chose spot A, then ride quickly to cross the
street as soon as the light turns green. Don’t look at the
motorist to see if they want to go ahead and turn. If you’re
in spot A and they want to turn, then you’re in their
way. Why did you take spot A if you weren’t eager to
cross the street when you could? When the light turns green,
just go, and go quickly. (But make sure cars aren’t running
the red light on the cross street, of course.)
If you chose spot B, then when the light turns green,
DON’T pass the car in front of you — stay behind it,
because it might turn right at any second. If it doesn’t
make a right turn right away, it may turn right into a
driveway or parking lot unexpectedly at any point. Don’t
count on drivers to signal! They don’t. Assume that a
car can turn right at any time. (NEVER pass a car on the
right!) But try to stay ahead of the car behind you until
you’re through the intersection, because otherwise they
might try to cut you off as they turn right.
By the way, be very careful when passing stopped cars
on the right as you approach a red light. You run the
risk of getting doored by a passenger exiting the car on the
right side, or hit by a car that unexpectedly decides to
pull into a parking space on the right side of the
THE RIGHT HOOK
[[image:right-hook.gif::inline: 1]] A
car passes you and then tries to make a right turn directly
in front of you, or right into you. They think you’re
not going very fast just because you’re on a bicycle, so it
never occurs to them that they can’t pass you in time. Even
if you have to slam on your brakes to avoid hitting them,
they often won’t feel they’ve done anything wrong. This kind
of collision is very hard to avoid because you typically
don’t see it until the last second, and because there’s
nowhere for you to go when it happens.
How to avoid this
1. Don’t ride on the
sidewalk. When you come off the sidewalk to cross
the street you’re invisible to motorists. You’re just
begging to be hit if you do this.
2. Ride to the left.
Taking up the whole lane makes it harder for drivers to pass
you to cut you off or turn into you. Don’t feel bad about
taking the lane: if motorists didn’t threaten your life by
turning in front of or into you or passing you too closely,
then you wouldn’t have to. If the lane you’re in isn’t wide
enough for cars to pass you safely, then you should be
taking the whole lane anyway. Lane position is
discussed in more detail below.
3. Glance in your mirror before
approaching an intersection. (If you don’t have a
handlebar or helmet mirror, get one now.) Be sure to look in
your mirror well before you get to the intersection.
When you’re actually going through an intersection, you’ll
need to be paying very close attention to what’s in
front of you.
Life Saving Tip: If a car turns into
you and cuts you off, turn right with them. Don’t think just turn
sharply with them. Better to be forced off course then to be force
under their wheels.
THE RIGHT HOOK PT. 2
passing a slow-moving car (or even another bike) on the
right, when it unexpectedly makes a right turn right into
you, trying to get to a parking lot,driveway or side
How to avoid this
1. Don’t pass on the right.
This collision is very easy to avoid. Just don’t pass
any vehicle on the right. If a car ahead of you is going
only 10 mph, then you slow down too, behind it. It will
eventually start moving faster. If it doesn’t, pass on
the left when it’s safe to do so.
When passing cyclists on the left, announce “on your
left” before you start passing, so they don’t suddenly move
left into you. (Of course, they’re much less likely to
suddenly move left without looking, where they could be hit
by traffic, then to suddenly move right, into a
destination.) If they’re riding too far to the left for you
to pass safely on the left, then announce “on your right”
before passing on the right.
If several cars are stopped at a light, then you can try
passing on the right cautiously. Remember that
someone can fling open the passenger door unexpectedly as
they exit the car. Also remember that if you pass on the
right and traffic starts moving again unexpectedly, you may
suffer THE RED LIGHT OF DOOM