23 May 2008

Give drivers the opportunity not to hit you

I've mentioned before that I come to cycling from the equestrian sports. When I'd give riding lessons one of the big fears we'd address with new riders was the fear that the horse would step on them. I had to explain, patiently, that horses really don't like to step on anything that feels squishy and you are, all of you, squishy to a horse. Give the horse the option and he will consciously avoid stepping on you.

Turns out cars are much like horses - they really don't want to hit you. In talking to people who don't like bikes in the street, most have finally confessed that their actual objection is a fear that they might accidentally hurt a cyclist. So let's all pay attention and give drivers the cues they need to not run over anything 'squishy'.

Given the Opportunity, they really don’t want to hit me
Written by Jeffrey Ferris
published for free in the Boston Bicycle Reflector

I have counseled numerous cyclists and would-be cyclists with this statement over the years. It is an important belief to have for cycling in traffic. It doesn’t mean you can just go out and be oblivious to traffic, but just the opposite! You must actively give drivers the opportunity to not hit you.

The cyclist must be constantly aware of what is going on around him/her and of what is coming. This allows you to be visible and predictable - not invisible or erratic. If a driver doesn’t see me or know what I am going to do, I am at risk. Being seen can mean wearing bright clothes, lights and reflectors at night. It also means not weaving in and out of traffic and the parking lane. A cyclist riding a clear predictable line lets drivers know both where you are and where you are going. Safe biking is not just passively following the rules, but actively using the three C’s: Courtesy, Cooperation, and Communication. Knowing where the cars are is good for your safety, but drivers knowing that you know where they are is important too.

Courtesy means realizing just because you’re righteously saving the earth in a non-motorized vehicle doesn’t mean car drivers aren’t humans trying to get somewhere too. Respect right-of-way, both yours and the drivers. Understand and respect rules-of-the-road, even when you don’t follow them.

Cooperation – Traffic has a certain flow. When you can work with the flow instead of fighting it, everyone is better off.

Communication is much more than arm signals. Turning your head and looking to make eye contact is essential to establishing understanding with drivers. Sometimes its your turn, sometimes theirs. Also body language - I mean indicating your position on the road, not giving the finger.

Follow the 3 C’s and you will be a safer and more respected cyclist with the majority of drivers. It will also make you more prepared to deal with the distracted drivers and the few jerks who don’t want to deal.

More and Safe Cycling,
Jeffrey Ferris


2whls3spds said...

I agree...in theory that most drivers do not want to hit a cyclist. However they still continue to engage in behaviour that is going to lead to just this happening. Cellphones, text messaging, GPS devices, eating, makeup and the list goes on ad nauseum. Driving demands undivided attention...unfortunately it doesn't happen that way.

Until such behaviours are restricted or become socially unacceptable we will continue to have problems.

Perhaps if we changed our laws and ordinances to match those of the more cycling oriented countries like Denmark or the Netherlands we would benefit. In those countries if you hit a cyclist, regardless of how it occurred you will likely be fined heavily and charged, even if the cyclist is at fault or partially at fault. Not so in the US.


Charlotte said...

Aaron, I think it really does depend on *where* in the US. My brother-in-law was found at fault when he was hit by a cyclist in Boulder, CO. The cyclist ran a red light (we see plenty of that happening here in Boston) and hit my brother-in-law's rear quarterpanel head-on. I'm not saying the BIL was totally innocent, but they threw the book at him. So in the US the problem is that enforcement is inconsistent.

My dad always says "Driving involves more than just steering". I think a lot of people need driving lessons from my dad!

Until then we just have to be very careful!!!

Anonymous said...

You must be very aware you're not alone on the street. Always being very alert on what others do in the traffic.
I'm from Belgium, Ostend, and I daily ride in a very busy town, with many tourists.