Dave Moulton

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Tuesday
Aug292017

Don't be the invisible cyclist

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 go around 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 blue 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. 

Statistics show that this next 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 first 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 steps on the gas 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.) Again, 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

 

 

 

 

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Reader Comments (6)

It is important to realise, that due to the way human vision works that people are functionally blind 15% of the time and this occurs (mostly) when the eyes shift vision from one target to another. During this period the brain fills in the blanks which could easily not include an approaching object. It is safest to assume then that you haven't been seen, despite taking all other precautions.

August 30, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTim

This is good info Dave, and definitely situations that cyclists should be vigilant to avoid.

But I think more common are cases where a cyclist is in plain view of a driver, but the driver doesn't mentally register the cyclist's presence. There's a lot of automatic filtering going on that enables the brain to focus on relevant information and not have to process irrelevant information. Through years of driving in contexts with tons of cars, occasional pedestrians, and very rare cyclists, many drivers' visual filters classify cyclists as irrelevant, so they really don't 'see' them.

So cyclists need to be aware of this tendency, and ride defensively, and using extra measures to force themselves into drivers' awareness: blinking lights, high-vis or reflective clothes or stickers, 'waggling' in the lane to be wider and non-stationary in a field of view, etc.

August 30, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRubeRad

Very good to know. Thanks Dave.

August 31, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJian

I usually try and look at the driver of the car. From about 100 feet away you can tell if the driver is looking at you or watching other passing vehicles. And if you can't see them, they can't see you.

September 5, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMike B

Mike B has it right - Human brains are wired to notice eyeballs staring straight at them. Some kind of hunter/prey perception thing from the days of eat-or-be-eaten. So looking straight at someone means their hind-brain is more likely to notice you and inform the conscious "hey look there again"

Using this technique keeps me safer in any path-crossing event, whether its a car, another cyclist, or a pedestrian. Doesn't seem to work with animals though.

September 9, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterCriggie

Hi Dave Thanks for the post. There are two situations stated here. Both are very sensitive & dangerous situation. I think both cyclist & car driver have to see carefully each other to avoid this types of circumstances. And you have described nicely how to avoid this situation. Thats great indeed.

September 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPeterson

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