Driving Around Cyclists

Since my last post was about riding safely around cars, I figured that it only made sense to follow up with a post about the other side of that equation: drivers. I don’t claim to be such a die-hard cyclist that I’ve never ridden in a car (although I try my best to ride everywhere within reason). Similarly to cyclists needing be aware of their surroundings at all times, drivers share that responsibility in order to keep everyone safe.

1. Be predictable. Immediately you’re probably thinking, “Wait a minute. That sounds pretty familiar, Cory.” That’s because it is! Just as the cyclist’s unpredictability can cause confusion and accidents, so too can the driver’s. As cyclists, we’re relying on drivers to follow the rules of the road just as much as the drivers rely on cyclists. It’s such an innately simple concept that’s missed all too often. This means following traffic signs, signaling, following the speed limit, etc. One frequent offender I see is yielding right of way. I find that people tend to fall into one of two categories: not yielding right of way or yielding right of way when they themselves have it. Both are really not ideal. I appreciate the thought of the latter group, but honestly it just makes everything more confusing and less predictable. Traffic flows most efficiently and smoothly when everyone remembers their driver’s ed class.

2. Pass with enough room. I really wish this one wouldn’t have to be enforced by law. Some states have a 2 feet pass law, a 3 feet pass law, and Iowa has a “reasonable distance” pass law (whatever the hell that means to you). It just seems like the natural, humane thing to do when passing a cyclist – give them enough space to feel comfortable. It might just be a simple case of the drivers not knowing what “3 feet” looks like when passing. In fact, there was an educational program in Brazil that allowed bus drivers to ride stationary bikes while being passed at 5 feet by a bus. It’s actually a pretty decent idea, and one that they could maybe start factoring into a driver’s education program one day – I would be more than willing to be their volunteer cyclist. As a general rule of thumb, though, I would say just pass a cyclist like you would another car.

3. Stop honking. This one applies to friendlies and foes. When you pass someone you know in your car, you give them a little honk and wave to say hello. The thing is, when you’re inside your car and they’re inside their car, that’s a lot of sound dampening between you. When the friend you’re trying to wave at is on a bike, though, it’s terrifyingly loud. As far as foes go, I understand that it can be hard to let a cyclist know that they ticked you off. Rather than honk at them (potentially frightening them and causing them to swerve into traffic), I would try rolling down your window at a stop light and politely letting them know the traffic law they broke. Notice I said “politely” and also “traffic law” – don’t stop a cyclist and verbally assault them because they weren’t riding on the side walk.

4. Check blind spots before turning. This is especially true for right hand turns. It’s easy to be assured there isn’t a car between you and the curb, but a bicycle is easier to miss. Checking your blind spots for both left and right turns will not only allow you to spot cyclists but also pedestrians and other cars.

5. Watch your car door when exiting the vehicle. In my last post, I mentioned cyclists getting “doored” (hit with a car door being opened). It only takes a split second to verify no one is riding up beside you before swinging your door open.

6. Stop looking at your phone. Really, this is good advice for life in general. We all look at our phones too much even when we aren’t driving, but it’s paramount to put our phones down while we’re operating a multi-ton machine at high speeds.

7. Remember we’re all human. Road rage is something that everyone suffers from on occasion. A car cuts us off, someone is driving slowly, a cyclist (or another driver) runs a light, etc. It’s easy to get fumed, but remember that we’re all just people trying to get from A to B. We all have families and lives outside of our commutes, so please be nice to each other out there.

I think that most of these are pretty straight forward and common sense. At this point, it’s pretty understandable that drivers don’t necessarily know how to or feel comfortable driving around cyclists. Until we get a more prominent section of driver’s education programs to include cycling laws and how to drive around them, it can’t really be expected that drivers will inherently know how. Hopefully this doesn’t come across as a snobby cyclist saying that all drivers need to bow down to me as a God. Well… maybe.

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3 thoughts on “Driving Around Cyclists

  1. For #5, I encourage everyone to get in the habit of doing what is called the “Dutch Reach.” When opening a car door, use the hand away from the door (right hand for the driver). This will naturally turn your body so you can look over your shoulder for a person riding a bike. Easy to do and helps remind you to take a quick look.

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  2. Pingback: Texting, Drinking, and Prison | Life By Bicycle

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