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« Charleston Bicycle Lecture Series | Main | The Invisible Cyclist: Part I »

The Invisible Cyclist: Part II

Statistics show that this scenario, more than any other, is the most common cause of serious injury or death to both cyclists and motor-cyclists.

The cyclist is riding to the right of the lane and is going straight. The red SUV has just passed him and is also going straight.

The blue car is stopped with his turn signal on waiting to turn left into the side road. As in the Part I scenario, the driver of the blue car can’t see the cyclist because he is behind the red SUV, and also the cyclist cannot see the blue car for the same reason.

It is possible the driver of the blue car has been sitting waiting to turn for some time, and the cyclists has been partially hidden from his view by a steady stream of traffic. Now all the driver sees is a gap in traffic behind the red SUV.

The red SUV passes and the driver of the blue car guns it to turn quickly. It is a small gap in traffic and his only thought is that he must get across before the next car arrives. He is no longer looking down the road otherwise he might still see the cyclist; he is now looking at the side road in the direction he is headed.

The cyclist is either hit broadside by the front of the car, maybe run over, or he runs smack into its side of the vehicle. Even if the driver sees the cyclist at the last moment, car driver and cyclist both have only a split second to act.

The car driver either panics, brakes hard and ends up as a stationary object in the cyclist's direct path; or he underestimates the cyclist's speed and tries the beat him through the intersection. Often a collision is unavoidable the moment the vehicle making the left turn has started the move.

How to avoid this situation.

1.) Think ahead. As I have just mentioned, the blue car has probably been waiting to turn for some time before the cyclist arrives. The cyclist could have made a mental note some 200 yards before he arrived at the point of a potential collision.

2.) If it is safe to do so, take the lane. Signal and move over to the left so you are visible to the driver of the car waiting to turn. Had the cyclist done this, chances are the red SUV would not have passed him, but would have still been behind him. The blue car would have had to wait for both the cyclist and the SUV to pass before turning.

Also, if the cyclist moves to the left, nearer the center of the lane, should the blue car turn, the cyclist has more opportunity to simply steer a course behind the vehicle.

3.) Listen for cars behind you, they are your safety buffer. If there are none and there is any doubt that the turning driver has seen you; be ready to make a panic stop. 

If the car driver has not seen the cyclist, an accident can still be avoided if the cyclist is aware ahead of time, what could happen. Otherwise, given the cyclist's speed, the reaction time, and the distance it takes to stop on a bicycle..... Well, you get the picture.

In these scenarios I have used an SUV as an example of a vehicle blocking the view of a turning driver. More often than not the vehicle you are following is a large commercial box van, truck, or bus, making the situation even worse.

The onus is of course on the driver of the vehicle entering or turning from a highway, but as it is the cyclist has the most to lose in such a situation, it behooves him or her to ride defensively at all times.

Don’t be a victim.  Always think ahead and look for potential hazards. Remember it is not that you are actually invisible; it is more an illusion that the cyclist is not there, brought on by years of conditioning and not being aware of bicycles.

Multiple times, every day for years a driver waits for a gap in traffic to make a left turn. When he sees it he goes for it; always without mishap. Then one day there is a cyclist in that gap.

Don’t let it be you; don't be the Invisible Cyclist


Reader Comments (15)

Great post's in the last couple of days Dave. Keep up the great work!!

February 11, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterneillr

Useful advice thanks.

February 11, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterstephen_mc

Thanks for part 2 - it rings a bell...or, rung a bell with me:-)

February 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMike in CT

This kinda reminds me of a situation I was in recently :)

February 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJoby

Too often the blue car is simply in a hurry and often doesn't use turn signals (they're too inconvenient for many drivers). The other problem is that the blue car isn't seen by the cyclist who can't see over or around large SUVs, trucks, vans, etc. - - and we know how omnipresent they have become on our roads.

Cycling is a relaxing-enjoyable experience until "panic" stops become daily expectations and must be kept in mind to stay safe.

February 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJack

The only true rule of the road is; "If they
can't hit you, they won't hit you!" Anything else is a statistical probability. Being aware of possible moves by motorists, and anticipating those moves, may save your life! Great post, Dave!

February 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDoug P
February 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterP_Langenthal

Help cars to see you by wearing bright clothing.

February 11, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterbbattle

Thanks for this, Dave.

This situation is also trouble if you (cyclist) are in the place of the blue car, and there are two lanes in the opposite direction. A left-turner or someone with a misplaced sense of courtesy waves you through, but the person in the right lane behind them just wants to pass them on the right.

Don't take the offer of a unimpeded left turn unless you KNOW your route across the opposite lanes is clear!

Some drivers are miffed at the rejection or even angry at a refusal of their "gift," but that's too bad.

I got a left cross a few months ago (only a cracked helmet and some stars) but I wasn't invisible, just not as relevant as a cell-phone or other distraction.
I wished I'd practiced my panic turn and panic stop.
And I need to trust my instincts more.

February 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRay



If you allow me to, I will translate more of your articles into Thai language
and post it on www.thaimtb.com webboard, which is the biggest mountain bike
community in Thailand. I am sure your article will benefit cyclist here.


February 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBkk

Ray brings up a situation I experience frequently. Riding on multiple lane roads with my young sons and stopping to turn left in a center lane, many drivers want to provide the gift of risk by stopping while numerous cars continue to pass on their right. Yes the driver in the stopped car feels betrayed and miffed. Unfortunately drivers have little empathy or appreciation of what cyclists must deal with in riding on wide-multiple lane roads.

February 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJack

John Stossel, and 20/20 by and large, has become trivial and irrelevant. What a dumb piece of reportage.

February 12, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterskylab

Stossel = jackass.

He rides ... good for him. But it sure didn't provide any meaningful context to his report. He rides more recklessly because he has a helmet? I don't believe it.

February 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRider

Depending on conditions, a really bright front strobe can help with these kinds of situations... it may be obnoxious, but it really cuts down on getting cut-off.

February 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTim

Hi Dave
Your post reminds me of a situation in my own life, some times accidents also happen to normal pedestrians walking by the side of the road. I survived one such accidents with some bruises on my legs. One must never be careless while he/she is on a road.

February 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRose

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