The Wheelsucker continues his discussion on cycling and How Not to Get Hit By a Car. In this post — advice for motorists on How Not to Hit Cyclists.
NOTE: Opinions expressed here are those of the Wheelsucker, who is trying to get the conversation started. Feel free to respond in the comment section below.
Cyclists in Maryland are legally permitted to ride on all roads with speed limits of 50 mph and under. Bicycles have always been allowed on roads by law and bicycles predate cars on the roads. This may be somewhat cryptic, or lacking in explanation, to some, but here are my thoughts on safe cycling and safe driving.
A Wheelsucker video of a cyclists’ view of the road:
The Wheelsucker offers these tips for motorists coming up against cyclists:
1. Always have more than three feet of clearance when you pass a cyclist
If you cannot pass safely, DO NOT PASS!! Wait until you have a completely safe opportunity to pass. Do not pass going into blind corners or hills. Do not “squeeze by” in the right lane blaming a vehicle in the left lane for not giving you enough room to honor the three-foot passing law.
Do you really need to pass at all? Fit cyclists can easily be travelling at 25 mph or more on the flat (a group of cyclists may travel even faster), which might be the speed limit. They may be keeping up with traffic and are just leaving a safe following distance to the vehicle ahead of them.
In built-up areas, that unsafe pass just gets you to the next red light a few seconds earlier, in more open areas it is probably just a few seconds before you get to a safer place to pass. If you start to pass and the see oncoming traffic you may be tempted to swerve back to the right, striking the cyclist(s) or forcing them off the road. Do not pass unless you are certain you can complete the pass safely.
2. Cyclists are NOT required to ride to the far right on most of the roads
Cyclists may choose to “take the lane” for safety reasons. From the Maryland Transportation Department:
“This ride-to-the-right provision does not apply when operating in a lane that is too narrow for a bicycle to travel safely side-by-side with another vehicle within the lane. The provision also does not apply where the right-hand lane is a turn lane, or the bicyclist is operating on a one-way street. (TR § 21-1205(a))”.
The State Highway Administration says that cyclists should ride to the right, but then lists several exceptions:
- if the lane is not wide enough for a bicycle and a car to safely pass side by side, then the cyclist can “take the lane”.
A cyclist riding say two feet from the extreme right sticks out about another foot (shoulders, hips and handlebars) to the left, and the law says the passing vehicle must provide at least three feet. Two plus one plus three is six feet. Most cars are six feet wider or more.
The lanes are NOT generally wide enough (with the above calculation they would have to be over 12 feet wide) for a bicycle and a car to safely pass side by side. So this exception, which is probably not well understood by either cyclists or motorists, is why cyclists have the legal right (and are encouraged in state issued publications) to “take the lane”.
There are other exceptions to the “stay to the right” as well.
Cyclists are not taking the lane to annoy you, they are doing it to stay safe, because cyclists riding to the far right are more likely to be passed too close — or not be seen at all — by motorists.
A cyclist in the shoulder or right hand side of the lane, may need to move left due to debris in the road, sewer grates, potholes, parked cars, shoulder ending, shoulder becomes right turn lane, etc. as you pass them. Slow down, give the cyclist room and consider that they may need to move left.
3. Do not speed in built up areas, or on roads where there may be pedestrians or cyclists
Drive the actual speed limit or less, not several mph higher, and reduce speed in poor visibility or slippery conditions. Collisions at more than 30 mph are usually fatal for pedestrians and cyclists, while the chances of survival are much greater if the car was moving at less than 25 mph.
4. Slow down when you get close to cyclists and pedestrians
Slow down when you approach a crosswalk that may have pedestrians or cyclists near it. Be patient; an extra 10 or 20 seconds of waiting time will not change your life but your impatience could ruin or take the life of a cyclist or pedestrian. I see too many “near misses” on certain streets.
5. When opening the driver’s side door after parallel parking, get in the habit of rotating your torso and head to the far left
…so you are really looking over your left shoulder for oncoming traffic including cyclists. Use your right hand to open the door. This basically forces you to twist to the left so you can get a good look over your left shoulder.
A friend of mine ended up in Shock Trauma in Baltimore after a driver opened a car door into his path as he was riding up Main Street in Annapolis. He hit the edge of the door with his throat, broke bones in his throat and was having significant difficulty breathing while being taken by ambulance to emergency.
I am sure the driver opening the door would have noticed if a car or truck was coming up Main Street, but his cursory check resulted in my friend going to hospital and significant damage to the driver’s side door of the vehicle. This would be a charge against the car driver in most European countries.
6. Do not creep slowly ahead with your front wheels turned
Motorist often do this when waiting for an oncoming cyclist so you can turn left across their lane after they have ridden past, or waiting for a cyclist to pass so you can turn into the lane they are in.
Cyclists cannot trust all drivers and will wonder if you are trying to cross ahead of them or even into them. They may slow down, which delays you as well. Please just stop and wait for the cyclist to ride past you, then proceed.
7. Expect and respect cyclists on the roads
Cyclists have the legal right to be on any road in Maryland with a speed limit of 50 mph or less, and cyclists have been on the roads since before there were cars.
Throwing objects at cyclists, blowing your horn in frustration, accelerating hard to leave a cloud of exhaust fumes, swerving back right as you pass, passing going into blind corners or hills, passing cyclists and then turning right cutting them off, turning left in front of oncoming cyclists, passing while speeding, screaming insults, are all wrong and most are illegal, but area cyclists see these being done frequently.
8. Note that more and more cyclists have video cameras on their bikes and helmets
They are taking video and egregious actions will be on video, possibly posted online, and potentially shared with the local police department.
9. Pay attention and focus on your driving
Talking on the phone, texting, reading, eating, shaving, applying makeup and similar all distract you from your primary responsibility which is driving. This endangers everyone on the roads, including you and other occupants of your vehicle, and me.
I will report egregious distracted and dangerous driving I see to the local police department.
10. Irresponsible driving close to a cyclist can feel like being threatened with a deadly weapon
Your 3000-plus pound vehicle versus the cyclist on their 15 pound bicycle; what seems okay to you may appear to be quite dangerous to the cyclist.
Cyclists are husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, best friends, etc. just like you. They are riding legally for health, enjoyment or to get to work or school. Drivers and cyclists need to know the laws, obey the laws, show common respect and have patience to assure safety for all road users.