How To Avoid Common Bike-Car Collisions When Cycling
Every sport comes with inherent risks. Football players must learn to protect themselves from concussions. Hockey and soccer players must guard against ACL tears. But cyclists face a particularly life-threatening danger: cars.
When you do any kind of road cycling, cars must be your chief safety concern. You may be equal participants on the road, but one of you has a clear advantage in a showdown. If you come into contact with a vehicle, it’s not going to turn out well. Even the most experienced riders experience terrible outcomes, as the recent tragedy involving young U.S. cycling superstar Magnus White makes poignantly clear.
Overall, these tragedies have been on the rise in recent years. According to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, cyclist deaths were up by 8% in the first half of 2022 compared to the same period in 2021, even as overall traffic-related fatalities declined.
These facts demonstrate just how much risk a rider assumes when they take the road. That risk, however, changes dramatically depending on where you tend to ride. Vehicles always present a danger, but the nature of that peril shifts based on whether you’re riding in rural, suburban or urban contexts. As a cyclist with experience in all three settings, Coach Darryl MacKenzie has some insights on what to watch for, no matter where you ride.
Riding on Rural Roads
Clearly, rural roads see far fewer vehicles than city streets, and there’s much more room for cyclists to enjoy their rides without the fear of a collision. However, that doesn’t mean there’s no risk involved.
In rural areas, cyclists face a much greater risk of getting rear-ended by a passing vehicle. White’s tragic death is a perfect example of this, as he was rear-ended on a rural Colorado highway by a driver who veered onto the shoulder.
Although this is, overall, much less common than other types of car-hits-bike situations we’ll discuss in suburban and urban settings, it’s a significant danger on open country roads. Drivers in these areas may be less attentive or unaware of how wide their car is when they try to pass a cyclist around a bend in the road.
To protect yourself, it’s best to keep far to the right in the lane — when it’s wide enough for two vehicles — and pay close attention to your cycling mirror. A bike lane is even better, but even wide country lanes are sufficient for cyclists to leave plenty of room for passing cars. If the lane is too narrow, then it’s best to be assertive and take the center of the lane, forcing the vehicle to leave the lane entirely in order to pass you.
Cycling on Suburban Streets
Suburban streets are a different story for cyclists. Here, cars are much more of a clear and present danger. Thankfully, more cities and suburbs are improving road conditions for cyclists by adding bike lanes, buffer areas between bike and auto lanes, and traffic circles. Nonetheless, there are plenty of opportunities for collisions if you’re not careful.
Depending on where you live, you might encounter busy, congested intersections quite regularly. These spots present the most risk to cyclists, with cross-traffic coming from all directions.
It’s important to know the safest way to ride through intersections, and that’s often based on which direction you plan to turn. If you’re going straight through the intersection, though, the greatest danger you’ll face is getting hooked by a car turning left or right in front of you.
The best remedy here depends on the situation. If there is oncoming traffic that may turn left, it’s important to be assertive, take your lane and show that you’re going straight. Watch for oncoming cars, and be prepared to swerve left or right if needed.
For right hooks, you should always be conscious of any cars passing on your left when you come to an intersection. Be aware that these drivers may attempt to cut in front of you, and stay firmly in the center of the lane to make it difficult for them to do so. Be prepared to brake and swerve right if necessary. If possible, it may even help to stay as far to the left as possible to let cars turn right without cutting around you.
Navigating Cramped City Corridors
Urban streets present yet another type of risk to cyclists on their regular routes. While intersections are still risky, and cars in the rear should never be ignored, the congestion of city corridors brings a uniquely urban risk: car doors.
As you ride on city roads, you’ll regularly pass cars that are parallel-parked on your right. Often, those vehicles may have a driver in them, one who is ready to step out onto the road. That driver may look into their side mirror for vehicle traffic but easily miss the cyclist bearing down on them. When they open their door right into your path, the results may be disastrous.
One of Coach Darryl’s friends landed in the ER with 11 broken bones in his hands and feet after getting hit by a car door. Other riders have been even less fortunate, being forced by car doors into oncoming traffic and ending their lives. It’s the most common and dangerous type of car-hits-bike collision on our list, but it’s one too many riders fail to anticipate.
When you’re riding on city streets, you must always be mindful of parked cars. Steer well clear of the door zone, even if it means leaving the bike lane for the main lane of vehicle traffic.
Watch the Road
Road cycling is one of the most rewarding sports. There’s nothing like racing downhill on an open country road or seeing the city with fresh eyes as you pedal in the open air.
Yet, sharing the road with cars can be perilous. Every cyclist must take the risks seriously and know what to look for in every situation. Perhaps even more important, you have to recognize when you’re too distracted to put yourself at risk.
There’s no need to pedal the roads in fear, but you do need to be alert. Keep your head up and eyes open, and you’ll enjoy your road riding with confidence.
Coach Darryl has countless tips to help you stay safe on the road. Follow our blog and subscribe to our newsletter for fresh insights every week, and check out Coach’s website for tricks of all kinds.
Photo by Al Elmes on Unsplash