How to bike safely to work

It’s bike to work month and you decided that finally this year is the year you’re going to participate. You’ve got your bike, you’ve got your helmet, you’ve got a pack for all your work gear and a change of clothes, you’ve got your lock – you’re ready to go, right? Not so fast! Before you join the morning commute on two wheels, make sure to familiarize yourself with eight of the most common types of collisions – and how to avoid them. Then you can hop on that bike with confidence that your commute will end exactly where it’s supposed to – the front door of your workplace, as opposed to the ER.

 

#1 The Right Cross

This is the most common way to get hit. Cars coming from a side street, parking lot or driveway on the right – right into your path.

How to avoid this collision:

  • Get a headlight.  If riding at night, this should be obvious, but even during the day, a flashing strobe can be somewhat seen from a side angle.
  • Slow down or Yield.  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.  Depending on how the intersection is marked, the driver on the right may have the right of way anyway.
  • Ride further left.  Riding in the “A” lane in the picture, very close to the curb, is normal practice to not block traffic and may be the designated bike lane.  Riding a bit to the left, (B lane) puts you where cross-traffic drivers are normally looking for cars and may let other drivers have a less-obstructed view of you.

 

#2 The Door Prize

A driver opens his door right in front of a cyclist who can’t stop in time.  This kind of crash is more common than you might think:  It’s the second-most common car-bike collision.

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’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 farther out into the lane.
  • Scan parked cars for heads.  If you see a parked car with someone IN it, it is far more likely that a door may open as they exit.

 

#3 The Crosswalk Slam

You’re riding on the sidewalk, you cross the street at a crosswalk, and a car makes a right turn into you.

How to avoid this collision:

  • Use a headlight. If you’re riding at night, a headlight is absolutely essential. During daylight, it may be just the added bit of visibility you need for drivers.
  • Slow down. Slow down enough that you’re able to stop completely if necessary.  Even if a driver had looked, blazing through a crosswalk can catch them by surprise.
  • Don’t assume the right of way.  The light and the law may be in your favor, but never assume that approaching or turning drivers recognize those two facts.

 

#4 The wrong way wreck

When riding the wrong way, against traffic, a car makes a right turn from a side street, driveway, or parking lot, right into you.

How to avoid this collision:

  • Don’t ride against traffic. Ride with traffic, in the same direction.  Other cars (or cyclists and pedestrians) are not expecting you to come from that direction and may not look.  It’s against the law for a reason.

 

#5 The red light

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.

How to avoid this collision:

  • Don’t stop in the blind spot. Simply stop behind a car, instead of to the right of it. This makes you very visible to traffic on all sides.
  • Check for signals as you stop.  Not that every driver uses their signals 100% of the time, but if there IS a signal light on, you will know the driver plans to turn right.

 

#6 The right hook

A car passes you and then tries to make a right turn directly in front of 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.

How to avoid this collision:

  • Don’t ride on the sidewalk. When you come off the sidewalk to cross the street you’re invisible to motorists.
  • Use your rightful space in the lane. Taking up the whole lane makes you more visible, as well as harder for drivers to pass you and cut you off or turn into you.  This type of collision can only happen if you let a driver get beside you.  Don’t.

 

#7 The left Cross

A car coming towards you makes a left turn right in front of you. This is similar to #1, above.

How to avoid this collision:

  • Don’t ride on the sidewalk. When you come off the sidewalk to cross the street, you’re invisible to turning motorists.  Additionally, motorists are not expecting anyone moving faster than walking speed coming into the crosswalk and they may think they have time to get through.
  • Get a headlight. If you’re riding at night this is obvious, but good lights add daytime visibility, too.
  • Wear bright clothing. Bikes are small and easy to see through even during the day. Yellow or orange reflective vests really make a big difference.
  • 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. It can be tough when the far right is the customary bike lane.  Exercise caution when bike lane visibility is blocked by traffic stopped in the regular lane of traffic.

 

#8 Where’d he come from?

You innocently move a little to the left to go around a parked car or some other obstruction in the road and get hit from behind.

How to avoid this collision:

  • Look behind you first. Some motorists 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. Though not a perfect substitute for a head-check, a glance in a mirror will help you monitor traffic to the rear, as well.
  • 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.  Don’t.  HOLD your place in the lane as if there were parked cars along the curb.
  • Signal. Never move left without signaling. Just put your left arm straight out. Check your mirror or look behind you before signaling.  Every hint or clue you can give a driver approaching from behind will help you from being hit.