How to Not Get Hit by Cars When Riding a Bike
Our latest mini book
This mini-book is different from normal bicycle safety guides
The bicycle has got to be one of the best inventions of all times. It has evolved in many ways in regards to structure, materials, size. It has provided transportation for all kinds of people in all kinds of places all over the world.
We have used it in many countries and and have put it through its paces when it was our only form of transportation, and truly did make it into our work horse. John made carts to haul any number of things and utilized every inch of that bike to hold whatever we needed to get home. And sometimes to my bliss, we would just meander and explore.
We have ridden on quiet country roads. We have ridden in very tight crowded streets of our neighborhood in Japan. We’ve done trail riding on our mountain bikes and John rode to Kashmir from our home in the Himalayas just to say he had been there.
All of these life adventures on this brilliant machine required not only ability to stay upright on the thing, but vigilant awareness of our surroundings for safety sake. No matter where you ride, you must be safe.
This mini book shows you real ways you can get hit and real ways to avoid them. This is different from normal bicycle safety guides, which usually tell you little more than to wear your helmet and to follow the law.
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, but your #1 goal should be to avoid getting hit in the first place.
Plenty of cyclists wearing helmets are killed by cars (or whatever vehicle sharing the road). Ironically, if they had ridden without helmets, yet followed the advice in this mini-book, they might still be alive today.
IntroductionThis mini book is for those who want to…. Basically and importantly have a safe bike ride. When we first experienced that bliss of independence with our first “wheels” we may have had a little training in “the rules of the rode” as we scurried around on our trikes and then bikes. This booklet offers some most common but seldom studied true scenarios and how to handle them so we can stay upright, un-scathed, and still blissfully independent.
Here’s a little history of our own biking journey. We have owned a good number of bikes over the years and our shed holds the evidence of that.
When John was 18, he and his brother bought 3 trailer loads of bikes from a guy who fixed up bikes. A business venture? Don’t know what became of that.
Bikes have been our work horses as well as provided hours of pleasure. Not all bikes were easy to ride and there have only been a couple we ever paid full price for. One was our ‘mountain” bikes we spent our whole summer earnings on as youth leaders. John had just finished designing his dream bike in his head and there it was. After struggling with our below par bikes that were our transportation to college, we fairly flew on the new ones.
We have biked wherever we have lived including Taiwan, Japan, Pakistan and wherever.
|John as a teenager in Taiwan|
And now we have come into the pedal assist part of our lives. John said they had gas engine pedal assist in Taiwan in the 60’s. And no, pedal assist is not “cheating”. It might be if you are in the Tour de France and get caught, but you still get a workout with these brilliant inventions. So who is in control? You or the bike. And if you read on, whether you are sporting a non-motorized or a motorized bike you will learn how to make it a safe ride.
Stay safe. John & Mary
7 Must Do’s!
- Read this mini book to be much safer on your bike
- Get a headlight
- Get a blinking tail light
- Wear something bright and reflective
- Don't pass on the right
- Don't ride on the sidewalk
- Slow down
Ten Ways to Not Get Hit
Adapted from http://BicycleSafe.com
This mini book shows you real ways you can get hit and real ways to avoid them. This is a different from normal bicycle safety guides, which usually tell you little more than to wear your helmet and to follow the law.
Wear your (bright) helmet - always. It should be snug, level, & stable. It must stay put despite defy violent shakes or impact. Strap it firmly on. A loose helmet which slides about your head will expose your head to greater risk and less protection when whipped by an impact.
Wearing a helmet will do absolutely nothing to prevent you from getting hit by a car. Helmets can help you if you get hit, but your #1 goal should be to avoid getting hit in the first place.
Don't fall into the trap that wearing a helmet is the first and last word in biking safety. In truth, 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.
The next most common bike safety advice out there after "wear a helmet" is "follow the law," but 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. Yes, as John says, “Your might be right, but dead right.”
For example: The law says ride as far to the right as is practicable. But if you ride 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
- 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 were following the law, but you made it easier for yourself to get hit. This mini-book doesn't focus on the law, it focuses on how to not get hit by cars.
Now let's see how to avoid getting hit.
Collision Type #1: The Right Cross
This is the most common way 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 collision:
1. Get a headlight. If you're riding at night, you absolutely should be using 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 headlamps (mounted on your head or helmet) are the best, because then you can look directly at the driver to make sure they see your light. Our Electric bike has both headlight and taillight that runs off the battery but we still use a headlamp too.
2. Wave. If you can't make eye contact with the driver, wave your arm. It's easier for them to see your arm going left and right than it is for them to see a bicycle coming straight towards them. You could also use a loud horn to get drivers' attention. If it looks like the driver is about to pull out without seeing you, yell "Hey!" You may feel awkward waving or yelling, but it's better to be embarrassed than to get hit. Incidentally, many countries require bells on bicycles, but the U.S. doesn't.
3. Slow 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.
4. Ride further left. You're probably used to riding in the "A" line in the previous picture, very close to the curb, because you're worried about being hit from behind.
But take a look at the car. When that driver 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 pulling out from a side road 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 easily 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.
You might worry that moving left makes you more vulnerable to cars coming from behind. But the stats say you're far more likely to get hit by a car at an intersection ahead of you that can't see you, than from a car behind you which can see you clearly.
So while both positions have risk, you generally reduce your risk by riding a little farther left. Your actual lane position depends on road conditions. On fast roadways with few cross streets (and thus less chances to get hit at intersections), you'll ride farther to the right. On slow roads with many cross streets, you'll ride farther left.
Collision Type #2: The Door Prize
A driver opens his door right in front of you. You run right into it if you can't stop in time. This kind of crash is the next most common car-bike crashes.
How to avoid this collision:
Ride to the left. Ride far enough to the left that you won't run into any door that's opened unexpectedly.
You may be wary about riding so far into the lane that cars can't pass you easily, but you're 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 which can see you clearly.
"Never ride in the door zone" is excellent advice -- but sterling as it is, it's difficult to always follow.
Illegally parked or stopped cars or pedestrians block the bike lane, passengers stuck in traffic threaten exits from the left, fast traffic, road hogging SUVs, trucks, vans and buses, potholes, trash or whatever may crowd you close or into the door/death zone.
Which risks to take, which not, is a ceaseless gamble. But you can develop better practices, skills, reflexes and judgment to improve your odds. Here are some of them:
- Always be vigilant with hands hovering on brake levers-- at the ready to slow or stop.
- Scan for signs that a vehicle might be occupied.
- YELL! Your shout is your horn! - & fastest defense as you also brake to slow. You need your hands on your brakes levers to slow and control your course, not busy with the horn or bell.
- Keep vigilant. Avoid day dreaming or distracted thinking. No ear buds. No cell phones. No improperly secured bags or baggage.
- Be aware of traffic from behind.
- Choose a safer route. If you can seek out safer routes with separated bike track or paths, or routes you believe are safer overall.
The individual rider bears the risk of life-altering and fatal doored crashes. Never trust drivers or passengers to see you or act safely.
You're riding on the sidewalk, you cross the street at a crosswalk, and a car makes a right turn, right into you.
Drivers aren't expecting bikes in the crosswalk, and it's hard for them to see you because of the nature of turning from one street to another, so it's very easy for you to get hit this way.
One study showed that sidewalk-riding was twice as dangerous as road riding, and another study said it's even more dangerous than that.
How to avoid this collision:
1. Don't ride on the sidewalk in the first place. Crossing between sidewalks is a fairly dangerous maneuver. If you do it on the left-hand side of the street, you risk getting slammed as per the diagram. If you do it on the right-hand side of the street, you risk getting slammed by a car behind you that's turning right.
2. Slow down. Slow down enough that you're able to stop completely if necessary.
3. Get a headlight. If you're riding at night, a headlight is absolutely essential. It's required by law, anyway.
Sidewalk riding also makes you vulnerable to cars pulling out of parking lots or driveways. And you're threatening to pedestrians on the sidewalk, who could get hurt if you hit them. These kinds of accidents are hard to avoid, which is a compelling reason to not ride on the sidewalk in the first place. In addition, riding on the sidewalk is illegal in some places.
Some special sidewalks are safe to ride on. If the sidewalk is really long (no need to frequently cross streets), and free of driveways and pedestrians, then there's little risk to you and others. Just make sure when you do cross a street or driveway that you slow down considerably and that you check the traffic in all directions, especially behind you if you're riding with the flow of traffic.
Collision Type #4: The Wrong-Way Wreck
You're riding the wrong way (against traffic, on the left-hand side of the street). A car makes a right turn from a side street, driveway, or parking lot, right into you.
They didn't see you because they were looking for traffic only on their left, not on their right. They had no reason to expect that someone would be coming at them from the wrong direction.
Even worse, you could be hit by a car on the same road coming at you from straight ahead of you. They had less time to see you and take evasive action because they're approaching you faster than normal (because you're going towards them rather than away from them).
How to avoid this collision:
Don't ride against traffic. Ride with traffic, in the same direction.
Many times when I’ve been riding with a group of kids, they split up half on one side of the road and half on the other, when they see a vehicle coming. They need to be taught that contrary to walking (where the safest thing to do is to walk against traffic) that this doesn’t apply to bike riding.
Riding against traffic may seem like a good idea because you can see the cars that are passing you, but it's not. Here’s why:
1. Cars which pull out of driveways, parking lots, and cross streets (ahead of you and to the left), which are making a right onto your street, aren't expecting traffic to be coming at them from the wrong way. They won't see you, and they'll plow right into you.
3. Cars will approach you at a much higher relative speed. If you're going 15mph, then a car passing you from behind doing 35 approaches you at a speed of only 20 (35-15). But if you're on the wrong side of the road, then the car approaches you at 50 (35+15), which is more than twice as fast! Since they're approaching you faster, both you and the driver have lots less time to react. And if a collision does occur, it's going to be at a faster relative speed.
4. Riding the wrong way is against the law and you can get ticketed for.
One study showed that riding the wrong way was three times as dangerous as riding the right way, and for kids, the risk is seven times greater. Nearly one-fourth of crashes involve cyclists riding the wrong way. The problem with wrong-way biking is that it promotes crashes.
Collision Type #5: The Red Light of Death
You 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 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. An Austin cyclist was killed in 1994 when he stopped to the right of a semi, and then it turned right. He was crushed under its wheels.
How to avoid this collision:
Don't stop in a vehicles blind spot. Simply stop behind a car, instead of to the right of it, as per the diagram to the right. 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 it.
Another 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 you in.
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.
While we're not advocating running red lights, notice it is in fact safer to run the red light if there's no cross traffic, than it is to wait legally at the red light directly to the right of a car, only to have it make a right turn right into you when the light turns green. The moral here is not that you should break the law, but that you can easily get hurt even if you follow the law.
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 street.
Collision Type #6: The Right Hook, pt. 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 collision:
1. 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.
2. 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.
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.
Collision Type #7:The Right Hook, pt. 2
You're 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 street.
How to avoid this collision:
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 #3, the Red Light of Death.
Note that when you're tailing a slow-moving vehicle, ride behind it, not in its blind spot immediately to the right of it. Even if you're not passing a car on the right, you could still run into it if it turns right while you're right next to it. Give yourself enough room to brake if it turns.
2. Look behind you before turning right. Here's your opportunity to avoid hitting cyclists who violate tip #1 above and try to pass you on the right. Look behind you before making a right-hand turn to make sure a bike isn't trying to pass you. Also remember that they could be coming up from behind you on the sidewalk while you're on the street. Even if it's the other cyclist's fault for trying to pass you on the right when you make a right turn and have them slam into you, it won't hurt any less when they hit you.
Collision Type #8: The Left Cross
A car coming towards you makes a left turn right in front of you, or right into you. This is similar to #1, above.
How to avoid this collision:
1. Wear something bright, even during the day. It may seem silly, but bikes are small and easy to see through even during the day. Yellow or orange reflective vests really make a big difference. Reflective leg bands are also easy and inexpensive.
2. Get a headlight. If you're riding at night, you should absolutely use a front headlight. It's required by law in most countries, anyway.
3. Don’t ride on the sidewalk. When you come off the sidewalk to cross the street, you're invisible to turning motorists.
4. Don't pass on the right. Don't overtake slow-moving vehicles on the right. Doing so makes you invisible to left-turning motorists at intersections. Passing on the right means that the vehicle you're passing could also make a right turn right into you, too.
5. Slow 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.
Collision Type #9: The Rear End
1. Never, ever move left without looking behind you first. Some motorists like to pass cyclists within mere inches, so moving even a tiny bit to the left unexpectedly could put you in the path of a car. Practice holding a straight line while looking over your shoulder until you can do it perfectly. Most new cyclists tend to move left when they look behind them, which of course can be disastrous.
2. Don't swerve in and out of the parking lane if it contains any parked cars. You might be tempted to ride in the parking lane where there are no parked cars, dipping back into the traffic lane when you encounter a parked car. This puts you at risk for getting nailed from behind. Instead, ride a steady, straight line in the traffic lane.
3. Use a mirror. If you don't have one, get one from a bike shop or an online shop right now. There are models that fit on your handlebars, helmet, or glasses, as you prefer. You should always physically look back over your shoulder before moving left, but having a mirror still helps you monitor traffic without constantly having to look behind you.
4. Signal. Never move left without signaling. Just put your left arm straight out. Be sure to check your mirror or look behind you before signaling (since a car passing too closely can take your arm out).
Collision Type #10: The Rear End, pt. 2
A car runs into you from behind.
This is what many cyclists fear the most, but it's actually not very common, comprising only about 4% of collisions.
However, it's one of the hardest collisions to avoid. Constantly check your mirror to see what’s behind you.
The risk is likely greater at night, and in rides outside the city where traffic is faster and lighting is worse. The best way to avoid getting Rear-Ended is to ride on very wide roads or in bike lanes, or on roads where the traffic moves slowly, and to have good or multiple taillights.
How to avoid this collision:
1. Get a rear lights. If you're riding at night, you absolutely should use a flashing red rear light. Bike shops have red rear blinkies for $15 or less. These kind of lights typically take two AA batteries, which last for months (something like 200 hours).
2. Get a mirror and use it. If it looks like a car doesn't see you, hop off your bike and onto the sidewalk. Mirrors cost $5-15. Trust me, once you've ridden with a mirror for a while, you'll wonder how you got along without it. Our paranoia goes way up when we don’t have a mirror. If you're not convinced, after you've used your mirror for a month, take it off your bike and ride around and notice how you keep glancing down to where your mirror was, and notice how unsafe you feel without it.
I can't stress this enough: Get a mirror and taillight!
2. Wear a reflective vest. High quality reflective gear makes you a lot more visible even in the day time, not just at night. At night the difference is even greater. You can pick them up for around $10 to $15. Also, when you hear a motorist approaching, straightening up into a vertical position will make your reflective gear more noticeable.
3. Choose wide streets. Ride on streets whose outside lane is so wide that it can easily fit a car and a bike side by side. That way a car may zoom by you and avoid hitting you, even if they didn't see you!
4. Choose slow streets. The slower a car is going, the more time the driver has to see you.We navigate the city by going through neighborhoods. Learn how to do this.
5. Use back streets on weekends. The risk of riding on Friday or Saturday night is much greater than riding on other nights because all the drunks are out driving around. If you do ride on a weekend night, make sure to take neighborhood streets rather than arterials.
6. Don't hug the curb. This is counter-intuitive, but give yourself a little space between yourself and the curb. That gives you some room to move into in case you see a large vehicle in your mirror approaching without moving over far enough to avoid you. Also, when you hug the curb tightly you're more likely to suffer a right cross from motorists who can't see you or might run into the curb. You are less likely to accidentally hit the curb and cause your own accident.