See that door opening on the cyclist? The frequency of accidents and deaths due to car doors suddenly opening is quite high. They usually cause the cyclist to swerve to the left into the path of a vehicle.
Court decisions have suggested that a bike should give at least three feet of clearance to parked cars to prevent a door incident. This usually means riding more in the middle of the lane, which many are uncomfortable doing. However, you might just need to and let the cars do as they must since you do have the right to the lane.
(I would have thought that the driver would be the one responsible for looking before opening his door, but apparently not. Of course, even if the legal liability were with the cyclist, you would still want to ride as safely as you can; it doesn’t help to be “dead right”.)
A few tips: If you can see that the car is empty, well good, you can move closer to it as you pass. But so many windows are tinted that you cannot see inside. If you’re a fast rider, you’re probably experienced enough to feel comfortable riding out in the lane with the cars. If you’re slower, you can probably ride closer to the cars as long as you are 100% ready to slam on your brakes if a door should start to open. Of course, be looking farther ahead for taillights that would indicate someone has just parked and is ready to open a door, or is departing and might pull out in front of you.
If there are many cars with pedestrians about, such as a garage sale site, a church service beginning/ending, a busy restaurant, etc., then it’s best to slow down and ride farther away from the cars since the likelihood of doors opening is high.
Don’t swerve in and out
A common mistake is to move to the right after you have passed a parked car, and then come back out again when you get to the next parked car. No, you should remain out and ride in a steady predictable path. If you dart in and out, a car will not know what to expect and not see you when you pop out to pass a parked car. Be visible by maintaining your position on the street.
I hope no one reading this rides against traffic
In writing this blog, I have assumed every cyclist knows you must ride with traffic, not on the wrong side of the road against it. Still, so many people are under the wrong impression that it’s safer to ride where you can see oncoming vehicles, presumably so you may know when one is about to hit you and you can take evasive action. Wrong wrong wrong. Statistics show that riding on the wrong side increases accidents. Cars oftentimes do not see you; they do not expect you riding at them. And if a car is about to hit you, do you really think you have time to avoid it?
To my dismay, I have witnessed experienced cyclists who, singly or in groups, cross to the wrong side of the road prior to a left turn. It happens on a busy road where they would need to (god forbid!) stop and wait for cars, before making a proper left turn. Instead, when there happens to be a break in the oncoming cars, they cross over in advance and ride up to their intersection against traffic. They set themselves up for a classic head-on collision, because a car making a right turn from the intersection will turn directly into them. Remember that vehicles making right turns are NOT looking to their right; they pull up looking left for approaching cars, and they continue to look left even as the final car is passing and they are accelerating into their turn. Think how you do this when you drive. Very few of us look to the right before we move forward as the final car passes us and we begin our turn. Why not? Why should we? Cars and bikes are not supposed to be coming at us in the wrong direction.
As I mentioned in a previous posting, since cars naturally turn right while looking ONLY to the left, it’s another reason why cars should never pass a cyclist on a two-lane road if there is an intersection. The passing car in the wrong lane can crash head-on into a right-turning car whose driver is understandably looking the other direction.