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How to Not Get Hit by Cars

....Important lessons on Bicycle Safety                                

by Michael Bluejay

Collision Type #1: The left Cross

This is one of the most common types of collision or potential collisions. A car is pulling out of a side street, parking bay, or driveway on the left. Notice that there are actually two different kinds of possible collisions here. Either you're in front of the car and the car hits you, or the car pulls out in front of you and you slam into it

How to avoid this collision:

    1. Get a headlight . If you're riding at night, you should absolutely use a front headlight. It's required by law, anyway. Even for daytime riding, a bright white light that has a flashing mode can make you more visible to motorists who might otherwise Left Cross you.
    2. Honk. Get a loud horn and USE IT whenever you see a car approaching (or waiting) ahead of you and to the left. If you don't have a horn, then yell "Hey!" You may feel awkward honking or yelling, but it's better to be embarrassed than to get hit.
    3. Slowdown. If you can't make eye contact with the driver (especially at night), slow down so much that you're able to completely stop if you have to. Sure, it's inconvenient, but it beats getting hit. Doing this has saved my life on too many occasions to count.
    4. Move right. Riding to the far left makes you invisible to the motorists ahead of you at intersections, but riding to the right makes you vulnerable to the cars behind you. Your actual lane position may vary depending on how wide the street is, how many cars there are, how fast & how close they pass you, and how far you are from the next intersection. On fast roadways with few cross streets, you'll ride farther to the left, and on slow roads with many cross streets, you'll ride farther right.

Collision Type #2: The Door Prize

A driver opens his door left in front of you. You run right into it if you can't stop in time. If you're lucky, the motorist will exit the car before you hit the door, so you'll at least have the pleasure of smashing them too when you crash, and their soft flesh will cushion your impact.

How to avoid this collision:
      1. Ride to the right. Ride far enough to the right that you won't run into any door that's opened unexpectedly. You may be wary about riding so far into the lane that cars can't pass you easily, but you're MUCH more likely to get doored by a parked car if you ride too close to it than you are to get hit from behind by a car which can clearly see you.

Collision Type #3: Red Light of Death

You stop to the left of a car that's already waiting at a redlight or stop sign. They can't see you. When the light turns green, you move forward, and then they turn left, right into you. Even small cars can do you in this way, but this scenario is especially dangerous when it's a bus or a semi that you're stopping next to.

How to avoid this collision:

         1. Don't Stop in the Blind Spot

Simply stop BEHIND a car, instead of to the left of it, as per the 
diagram below. This makes you very visible to traffic on all sides. It's impossible for the car behind you to avoid seeing you when you're right in front of it.

While we're not advocating running red lights, notice It is in fact safer to run the red light if there's no cross traffic, than it is to wait legally at the red light directly to the left of a car, only to have it make a left turn right into you when the light turns green. The moral here is not that you should break the law, but that you can easily get hurt even if you follow the law.

By the way, be very careful when passing stopped cars on the left as you approach a red light. You run the risk of getting doored by a passenger exiting the car on the left side, or hit by a car that unexpectedly decides to pull into a parking space on the left side of the street.

Collision Type #4: The Left Hook

A car passes you and then tries to make a left turn directly in front of you, or left into you. They think you're not going very fast just because you're on a bicycle, so it never occurs to them that they can't pass you in time. Even if you have to slam on your brakes to avoid hitting them, they often won't feel 
they've done anything wrong. This kind of collision is very hard to avoid because you typically don't see it until the last second, and because there's no where for you to go when it happens.

How to avoid this collision:

    1. Don't ride on the sidewalk. When you come off the sidewalk to cross the street you're invisible to motorists. You're just begging to be hit if you do this.
    2. Ride to the right. Taking up the whole lane makes it harder for drivers to pass you to cut you off or turn into you. Don't feel bad about taking the lane: if motorists didn't threaten your life by turning in front of or into you or passing you too closely, then you wouldn't have to. If the lane you're in isn't wide enough for cars to pass you safely, then you should be taking the whole lane anyway. Lane position is discussed in more detail below. 
    3. Glance in your mirror before approaching an intersection. (If you don't have a mirror, get one now.) Be sure to look in your mirror well before you get to the intersection. When you're actually going through an intersection, you'll need to be paying very close attention to what's in front of you.

Collision Type #5: The Left Hook, Part 2

You're passing a slow-moving car (or even another bike) on the left, when it unexpectedly makes a left 
turn right into you, trying to get to a parking lot, driveway or side street.

How to avoid this collision:

    1. Don't pass on the left. This collision is very easy to avoid. Just don't pass any vehicle on the left. If a car ahead of you is going only 20 km/hr, then you slow down, too, behind it. It will eventually start moving faster. If it doesn't, pass on the right when it's safe to do so.                                                           When passing cyclists on the right, announce "on your right" before you start passing, so they don't suddenly move right into you. (Of course, they're much less likely to suddenly move right without looking, where they could be hit by traffic, then to suddenly move left, into a destination.) If they're riding too far to the right for you to pass safely on the right, then announce" on your left" before passing on the left.                                               If several cars are stopped at a light, then you can try passing on the left cautiously. Remember that someone can fling open the passenger door unexpectedly as they exit the car. Also remember that if you pass on the left and traffic starts moving again unexpectedly, you may suffer #3, the Red Light of Death.              Note that when you're tailing a slow-moving vehicle, ride behind it, not in its blind spot immediately to the left of it. Even if you're  not passing a car on the left, you could still run into it if it turns left while you're left next to it. Give yourself enough room to brake if it turns.
    2. Look behind you before turning left. Here's your opportunity to avoid hitting cyclists who violate tip #1 above and try to pass you on the left. Look behind you before making a left-hand turn to make sure a bike isn't trying to pass you. (Also remember that they could be coming up from behind you on the sidewalk while you're on the street.) Even if it's the other cyclist's fault for trying to pass you on the left when you make a left turn and have them slam into you, it won't hurt any less when they hit you.

Collision Type #6: The Right Cross

A car coming towards you makes a turn right in front of you, or right into you. This is similar to #1, above.

How to avoid this collision:

    1. Don't ride on the sidewalk. When you come off the sidewalk to cross the street, you're invisible to turning motorists.
    2. Get a headlight. If you're riding at night, you should absolutely use a front headlight. It's required by law, anyway. 
    3. Wear something bright, even during the day. It may seem silly, but bikes are small and easy to see through even during the day. Yellow or orange reflective vests really make a big difference. I had a friend ride away from me while wearing one during the day, and when she was about a 250 meters away, I couldn't see her or her bike at all, but the vest was clearly visible.
    4. Slowdown. If you can't make eye contact with the driver (especially at night), slow down so much that you're able to completely stop if you have to. Sure, it's inconvenient, but it beats getting hit.

Collision Type #7: The Rear End

You innocently move a little to the right to go around a parked car or some other obstruction in the road,and you get nailed by a car coming up from behind.

How to avoid this collision:

    1. Never, ever move right without checking your mirror or looking behind you first. Some motorists like to pass cyclists within mere centimetres, so moving even a tiny bit to the right unexpectedly could put you in the path of a car.
    2. Don't swerve in and out of the parking lane if it contains any parked cars. You might be tempted to ride in the parking lane where there are no parked cars, dipping back into the traffic lane when you encounter a parked car. This puts you at risk for getting nailed from behind. Instead, ride a steady, straight line in the traffic lane. 
    3. Use a handlebar mirror. If you don't have one, go to a bike shop and get one.

Collision Type #8: The Rear End, Part II

A car runs into you from behind. This is what many cyclists fear the most, but it's not the most common kind of accident (except maybe at night, or on long-distance rides outside the city). However, it's one of the hardest collisions to avoid, since you're not usually looking behind you. The best way to avoid this one is to ride on very wide roads or in bike lanes, or on roads where the traffic moves slowly. Getting rear-ended in the daylight is rare.

How to avoid this collision:

    1. Get a rear light. If you're riding at night, you absolutely should use a flashing red rear light. Bike shops have red rear blinkies for $25 or less. These kind of lights typically take two AA batteries, which last for months (something like 200 hours). I can't stress this item enough: If you ride at night, get a rear light and use it!
    2. Choose wide streets. Ride on streets whose outside lane is so wide that it can easily fit a car and a bike side by side. That way a car may zoom by you and avoid hitting you, even if they didn't see you!
    3. Choose slow streets. The slower a car is going, the more time the driver has to see you. I navigate the city by going through neighbourhoods. Learn how to do this.
    4. Use back streets on weekends. The risk of riding on Friday or Saturday night is much greater than riding on other nights because all the drunks are out driving around. If you do ride on a weekend night, make sure to take neighbourhood streets rather than arterials. 
    5. Get a mirror and use it. If it looks like a car doesn't see you, hop off your bike and onto the sidewalk. Mirrors cost $25-50. Trust me, once you've ridden a mirror for a while, you'll wonder how you got along without it. My paranoia went down 80% after I got a mirror. If you're not convinced, after you've used your mirror for a month, take it off your bike and ride around and notice how you keep glancing down to where your mirror was, and notice how unsafe you feel without it.
    6. Don't hug the curb. This is counter-intuitive, but give yourself a little space between yourself and the curb. That gives you some room to move into in case you see a large vehicle in your mirror approaching without moving over far enough to avoid you. Also, when you hug the curb tightly you're more likely to suffer a leftcross from motorists who can't see you.

Collision Type #9: The Crosswalk Slam

You're riding on the sidewalk and cross the street at a crosswalk, and a car makes a left turn, left into you. Cars aren't expecting bikes in the crosswalk, so you have to be VERY careful to avoid this one.

How to avoid this collision:

    1. Get a headlight. If you're riding at night, you should absolutely use a front headlight. It's required by law, anyway.
    2. Slowdown. Slow down enough that you're able to completely stop if necessary.
    3. Don't ride on the sidewalk in the first place. Crossing between sidewalks can be a fairly dangerous manoeuvre. If you do it on the right-hand side of the street, you risk getting slammed as per the diagram. If you do it on the left-hand-side of the street, you risk getting slammed by a car behind you that's turning left. You also risk getting hit by cars pulling out of parking lots or driveways. These kinds of accidents are hard to avoid, which is a compelling reason to not ride on the sidewalk in the first place. And another reason not to ride on the sidewalk is that you're threatening to pedestrians. Your bike is as threatening to a pedestrian as a car is threatening to you. Finally, riding on the sidewalk is illegal in some places. If you do plan on riding on sidewalks, do it slowly and EXTRA carefully, ESPECIALLY when crossing the street between two sidewalks.

Collision Type #10: The Wrong Way Wallop

You're riding the wrong way (against traffic, on the right-hand side of the street). A car makes a left turn from a side street, driveway, or parking lot, right into you. They didn't see you because they were looking for traffic only on their right, not on their left. They had no reason to expect that someone would be coming at them from the wrong direction. Even worse, you could be hit by a car on the same road coming at you from straight ahead of you. They had less time to see you and take evasive action because they're approaching you faster than normal (because you're going towards them rather than away from them). And if they hit you, it's going to be much more forceful impact, for the same reason. (Both your and their velocities are combined.)

How to avoid this collision:

Don't ride against traffic
. Ride with traffic, in the same direction. Riding against traffic may seem like a good idea because you can see the cars that are passing you, but it's not. Here's why:
      1. Cars which pull out of driveways, parking lots, and cross streets (ahead of you and to the right), which are making a left onto your street, aren't expecting traffic to be coming at them from the wrong way. They won't see you, and they'll plough right into you.
      2. How the heck are you going to make a left turn?
      3. Cars will approach you at a much higher relative speed. If you're going 15hm/hr, then a car passing you from behind doing 50 approaches you at a speed of only 35 (50-15). But if you're on the wrong side of the road, then the car approaches you at 65 (50+15), which is 250% faster! Since they're approaching you faster, both you and the driver have lots less time to react. And if a collision does occur, it's going to be ten times worse. 
      4. Riding the wrong way is illegal and you can get ticketed for it. 

There's one possible exception to riding the wrong way. When you're riding in the country on narrow, high-speed roads, it may be helpful to ride against traffic so you can see what you're up against.Compared to city traffic, country traffic is likely to have less road space for bikes and cars to share. That being the case, riding the wrong way allows you to bail into the shoulder if a car doesn't see you. You don't have problem #1 above because side traffic is rare, and #2 is avoided because you're riding primarily along one road and not turning left. 

Country traffic is more likely to be sparse, which means that you may have the ability to switch to the "correct" side of the road when a car approaches you from a head. I did a 100-mile ride with a friend  once, continually switching from the right-hand side of the road to the left-hand side depending on whether traffic was approaching us from ahead or behind, since a vehicle passed us only once every several minutes -- but when it passed us, it was doing 110km/hr+, and we wanted to be as far away from it as we could. But remember that vehicles will still approach you faster when you ride the wrong way, and it's still illegal. It's your choice.