On Your Left
by Eli Post
Two riders collided on the Fall Century. The rider approaching from the rear called out “on your left” as is the custom, but regrettably the rider in front turned quickly left instead, and the approaching rider suffered serious injury. It seems likely that the overtaken rider was complying with a perceived command to “go left!”
We’ve heard other examples when riders interpreted “on your left” as a command to move to the left. We have concluded that “on your left” may not be the best warning when passing others. The phrase “passing” or “behind you” seems less likely to confuse someone than is “on your left”. The key is to provide an audible warning without startling the rider.
A sudden shout from behind (regardless of the words used), when the rider has no idea anyone is in the vicinity, is likely to startle. Trouble is if it’s not loud enough, they won’t hear the warning. What we believe works best is to repeatedly say “passing” every few seconds, starting from well behind the rider and continuing until you are alongside the rider. That way, they are less likely to be startled by a sudden noise right behind them, but are also able to hear the warning as you get closer. Try to say “passing” in a very friendly voice. This tone is much easier to capture when saying “passing” than when saying “on your left”, which tends to sound harsh.
The “on your left” convention works when you know the person well, that he/she understands and won’t be startled. Otherwise we suggest that you slow down and maintain a wide distance when passing cyclists (or runners, walkers, etc.). Again, some people become frightened and, as happened on the century, may even move to their left.
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