by Carol Hausner
Greetings! I'm a new person on the Safety Committee, hoping to bring a different perspective to the Safety Corner—that of a person who loves the science of safety and also is suffering the long shadow of her husband being hit by a car.
Here's something shocking: many motorists will actually be quite accommodating of cyclists if they just knew what the heck we're planning to do. Let's face it—we're a highly mixed lot. Just watch the cyclists following the routes of the Saturday morning fitness ride—my normal route—and you'll see a wide range of behavior. When faced with a line of stopped cars (e.g., at a red light), some cyclists stop behind the last car, some ride up alongside the cars to stop at the intersection, and—sadly for all of us—some folks on bikes simply ignore traffic laws (and the concept of Same Roads, Same Rights, Same Rules), pass everyone and go through the red light.
We cyclists have many ways of communicating our intent, and extensive use of such communication tools can make for a much safer and more pleasant ride.
Here are a few examples:
- Lane position - This is arguably the most important safety tool we have, as it's what protects us from being hit by right-turning cars at intersections and other bad things. It's also an essential communication tool. When claiming a lane, signal well prior to starting to move into the lane. This conveys that the inward movement is intentional—rather than lane drift—and enables motorists to adjust accordingly.
- Clear and obvious moves - This involves operating your bike in a way that makes it clear where you are trying to go (the "clear" part) and having that be to somewhere readily understandable (the "obvious" part). It's typified by a cyclist riding straight along on the side of the road: the cyclist is clearly heading forward along an obvious path—the road. Making a left at the upcoming intersection? It can be best to wait until the intersection becomes visible before moving into the correct lane position (with appropriate signaling), and—of course—it's important to signal the turn itself. Making a right into the supermarket? Signal in advance and turn in the driveway rather than, say, cutting across a sidewalk. Indecision can send confusing signals to motorists (and other cyclists), so if riding with others, agree on the route well in advance of intersections.
- Signal, signal, signal - While the two above apply to motorists as well as cyclists, a cyclist has a clear advantage in the signaling arena. We can signal left and right turns like motorists, but also strategic movements like coming into a lane to clear a parked car or to claim the lane. I find that signaling extensively not only contributes to a safer cycling experience, but also to a more pleasant one. The key is, of course, to point with your arm and hand at where you're heading—an acute angle for movement into a lane, fully extended for a turn, I tend to hold the arm position and wiggle my fingers until I'm confident the signal has been seen, but I have no data on whether this makes a difference.
- Audible communications - Audible alerts can be extremely helpful for alerting others of your presence in certain situations, such as when a motorist is coming out (forward or backward) of a driveway with limited visibility. In such situations, saying "No" several times loudly and quickly can be all that's needed to stop the motorist (but be ready to brake/divert if needed). I try to say this in a friendly matter and to crescendo the volume to avoid startling the motorist. Similarly, calling out "on your left" when overtaking a fellow cyclist is not only safer but more courteous.
Hope these are helpful! Safe and fun cycling!
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