Avoiding the Right Hook
by John Allen
Bicyclists have appropriated the colorful term “right hook” from the world of boxing to describe one of the most common bicycle-motor vehicle collisions: a motor vehicle turns right from the bicyclist’s left side, cutting off the bicyclist.
A right hook can occur in either of two ways: a motorist overtakes a bicyclist and turns right, or a bicyclist overtakes on the right of a waiting motor vehicle which turns right.
That’s bad news, but the good news is that you can take charge of your own safety. You can prevent both kinds of right hooks, and here’s how.
If the Motorist is Overtaking
Ride in the center of the travel lane as necessary to discourage motorists from overtaking and turning right, across your path. Making a “slow” signal also helps discourage this, and indicates that your lane position is intentional.
On the scenic, narrow secondary rural roads which CRW commonly chooses for its rides, staying away from the edge also is important where fences, vegetation and other obstacles block the view to the right ahead: you make yourself visible earlier to motorists approaching from ahead and from the right as well as from behind, and give yourself more room to maneuver. As a vehicle approaches from behind, evaluate the situation. Traffic is typically light on these roads, so you usually only have to deal with one vehicle at a time. When it’s safe for the vehicle to pass, encourage the driver by moving to the right and giving the driver a friendly wave. You need to make the decision whether it is safe for a motorist to overtake in the same lane.
A highway with higher-speed traffic often has a wide right-hand lane or shoulder, so motor traffic can overtake you easily. There may be an exit ramp or Y intersection, though, which does not require the driver to slow. You then have three choices: 1) time your crossing when there is no overtaking traffic – 2) keep right, then cross at the end of the ramp after checking for traffic – or, 3) stay to the left of the line of travel the driver would take to exit.
When merging left, check for traffic and signal early to make your intentions clear, so you do not confuse the driver behind you.
If You are Overtaking
The right hook also can occur if you are filtering forward on the right of motorists waiting at a stop sign or traffic signal. In recent years, bike lanes have become common in urban areas. They encourage bicyclists to filter forward on the right, placing them at risk of the right hook. The number of right-hook collisions has been increasing. They are the leading cause of bicyclist fatalities in the Boston area.
To prevent these collisions, bike lane or no bike lane, do not overtake a car on the right if there is any chance it can make a right turn—and never overtake a long truck or bus on the right.
If you choose to filter forward past stopped, congested traffic, always wait behind the first vehicle stopped at the intersection. The driver of the second vehicle in line can see you, and turn right from behind you instead of right-hooking you.
A sign on the back of many trucks and buses reads “if you can’t see my mirrors, I can’t see you.” It also should say “I still might not see you, even if you can see my mirrors.” Turning a large truck or bus is complicated. The driver can’t look into all of the mirrors at the same time. When the cab has begun to turn, you may be outside the mirrors’ field of view. Sometimes a large truck must swing left before turning right, or turn right from the second lane, to avoid the rear wheels’ going over the curb.
Do not put yourself where there’s no escape if a truck or bus starts to turn! If there is an open lane to the left, you can pass on the left, but give yourself plenty of clearance to brake and fall back if the truck or bus swings left or accelerates.
If you are riding in a group or pace line, avoid filtering forward on the right entirely.
The most serious right-hook hazard is from large trucks. This article addresses it and links to additional resources: http://streetsmarts.bostonbiker.org/2013/05/28/you-too-can-prevent-fatal-truck-bicycle-collisions/
Scoping out the situation behind you is much easier with a rear-view mirror. Here’s an article about mirror selection, adjustment and use: http://bikexprt.com/bicycle/mirror.htm
General advice on riding safely in congested traffic is here: http://bikexprt.com/streetsmarts/usa/chapter9a.htm#jams
Merging across traffic in a group is covered in the Safety Corner article on page 11 of the July WheelPeople, and also http://bikexprt.com/streetsmarts/usa/chapter7a.htm
Be safe out there!
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