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« The Invisible Cyclist: Part II | Main | The Idaho Stop »

The Invisible Cyclist: Part I

So often a car will turn or pull out in front of cyclist causing serious injury, then claim, “I didn’t see him.”  The cyclist might ask, “Am I invisible? I am wearing a bright lime green jacket.”

It is not a case of the cyclist being invisible, but one of the position of the cyclist and other vehicles on the road giving the illusion that he is not there.

Take the common scenario in the top picture. A cyclist is following the red SUV that has just overtaken him; the driver of the SUV wants to make a right turn, and is indicating so with his turn signal.

The red SUV is slowing to less than the cyclist’s speed, so the cyclist moves over to the left to avoid running into the red vehicle. He figures he can do this safely as he can hear no other cars immediately behind him.

This lack of traffic behind him is actually the cyclist’s downfall, because at this moment the blue car is emerging from this same side road, about to make a left turn to go in the opposite direction to the cyclist.

The driver of the blue car waits until he is sure the red SUV is turning, and then makes his move. He does not see the cyclist because he is hidden behind the red vehicle. For the same reason the cyclist can’t see the blue car either.

The driver of the blue car gets the illusion that there is nothing behind the red SUV, all he sees is a gap in traffic and an opportunity to pull out.

The red SUV turns, the blue car pulls out, and the cyclists runs smack into the side of the vehicle.

How to avoid this situation.

1.) Be aware of cars waiting in side roads and driveways ready to turn onto the road you are on.

2.) In this scenario, don’t be in a hurry to get around the turning vehicle. Had the cyclist slowed and stayed the right, he would have seen the blue car, even if the driver had not seen him. Also when the car pulled out the cyclist would have more of a chance to go behind the vehicle to avoid a collision.

3.) Listen for cars immediately behind you, if there is traffic behind this is your safety buffer and people will not pull out if they see other cars approaching. 

The British Highway Code illustrates this scenario in rule 211. (Picture left.)

The onus is on the driver pulling out to make sure the road is clear, but that is of little consolation to the cyclist if he is hit 


Footnote: Read about this cyclist's Near Death Experience, a story that prompted me to write this peice. Later this week in Part II, I will outline another common accident scenario

Reader Comments (8)

I've been hit by two stupid drivers in the last year, one time resulting in a broken collarbone and a fairly sizeable gash, you can read about it here.

February 8, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterty

Excellent post and the graphics are very helpful for all...encouraging motorists to take a broader/safer view and cyclists a more defensive posture when riding with traffic.

Another common scenario is a similar setup where view to the cyclist is obscured by a motorist traveling in parallel while opposing traffic makes a left-hand turn across the lane toward the side road. (right hand turn in UK).

I have six ribs that remind me of this on cold damp days...from an injury sustained twenty years ago. The laws of the land leaned in my favor...the laws of physics did not...ride defensively folks.

February 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMike in CT

Mike in CT,
That scenario will be the subject of Part II, later this week.

February 8, 2010 | Registered CommenterDave Moulton

Yes Dave SUVs and trucks create uniquely dangerous conditions for the most vulnerable road users. That is simply why our laws need to be updated to reflect reality. All road users are not the same and those who are most vulnerable pay a higher price for the same rights.

February 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJack

Thanks Dave for another thought provoking piece. It is always interesting to me that cyclists like to ride where they can see the car in front of them: just off its right rear quarter. Right where the driver couldn't see a semi much less a bike. Then they gripe when the car turns right without seeing them. I like to pay attention to placing myself where the most important car driver can see me as opposed to where I can see the car, that is usually somewhere that the driver behind can keep an eye on me with enough space to take evasive action for what ever the guy in front does. It may be better to think of yourself as being in front of the car behind rather than behind the car in front. Sorry: one of my favorite soap box items.

February 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRedtaildd

I quite often have the same problem as above, but without the red car. Either they see me and think I'm going 10kph instead of 25 or 30kph, or they just aren't looking.

I haven't encountered the above version yet, must be careful...

February 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterIra

Hey Dave,

I was in this exact situation today behind a panel van, but reversed (am in the UK). I thought of your post and slowed the f down as i waited for the car on the left to notice me. I've never seen this accident scenario mentioned before. and I'm really glad you considered it and put it out there. In the long run, you may very well have saved a few people from serious injury or death.

February 19, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermander

I'm glad you are OK. Motorcyclists get this one a lot as it is natural for them to accelerate past a slowing and turning vehicle. That's why it is in the Highway Code.
Stay safe out there.

February 19, 2010 | Registered CommenterDave Moulton

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