Defensive cycling: Looking left

I’ve been cycling around many different place in New Zealand for quite a few decades now and over time I’ve become aware that there are things that cyclists can do to make themselves safer on the road.  So I thought I’d start a wee series on cycling defensively.   There are already posts on this website about

Looking Left

(c/ NZTA)

(c/ NZTA)

Many hazards come at us from the left as we cycle down the lefthand side of the street.  Cars come out of driveways and side roads and a few either don’t see a cyclist or don’t choose to give way to them.

Mostly I’ve realised that a driver has not seen me before they make a wrong move, because I haven’t been able to meet their eyes as they come out of a side road.  On these occasions it has been clear that the drivers are only looking for cars and they do not expect anything more slow moving to be there, so their eyes focus only on what is further down the street.  This is particularly an issue where cars are turning left because they are only looking one way before taking off out of their street and they tend to be hoping not to stop.

I’ve either jammed on my brakes, or on one occasion had to get out into the middle of the road to avoid being hit.  On all the occasions, when the drivers have seen me up close and personal, they have registered shock, so while I don’t hold it against them I try to continually expect the worst of them. When I’m driving my car, I try to remember to take a second look.

So what are the defensive points here?

    1. Always watch the eyes of drivers approaching intersections from your left, even when you have the right of way.
    2. Even when you think you have caught a driver’s eye be aware that they still may not have seen you.  The human eye, as this article points out is not well designed for driving and it is clear that many drivers simply are not looking for cyclists and are not seeing them.
    3. I live on a hill and, because I’m so slow going up, I tend to want to make up for it in the downhill direction.  However, one day I was descending at some speed and came round a corner to discover one of my neighbours backing a trailer out of his driveway…  We avoided an accident (just) because we BOTH took quick evasive action and I remain grateful to him for that!  Since then I’ve always slowed down on blind corners and I ride further out in the lane wearing high-viz so I’m just that little bit easier to see.  Residents in this neighbourhood are used to looking out for fast descending cyclists but on dark mornings it is difficult to notice fast moving cyclists, so I tend to slow right down if I see someone who could spell trouble for me.

    4. As with driving a car – always scan ahead for potential hazards and take evasive action before it is needed

In darkness it is even MORE likely that a driver will not see you and you usually cannot catch their eyes.  In these situations make sure you have a good headlight.  Ideally use a headlight on your helmet  as well so you can turn the light towards the vehicle and increase the chances of them seeing you (be careful not to dazzle/annoy people however!).  I slow right down if I am in any doubt about whether a driver has seen me, and on country roads I’m even more wary than I am around the City.   I tend to assume that I have not been seen until I’m absolutely sure otherwise, even if this means stopping even when I have the right of way.

Happy, safe, cycling

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  • Andrew
    9 December 2014, 1:08 am

    Good points. I’d add that in addition to drivers not noticing people cycling in the dark, they often miss us when it’s raining. This may be because their wipers don’t clear enough of the windscreen for them to see nearby cycles.

    While we’re talking defensive cycling, I also like to keep pedalling when I’m going through an intersection, especially where approaching vehicles intending to turn right might cut me off, or vehicles on a side road to my left are attempting to turn onto the main road. I keep pedalling to indicate that I’m claiming right of way, even though I’ve got my fingers on the brake levers in case I need to take evasive action. And I try to establish eye contact with the driver, as noted in the article.

    Another risk factor for cyclists not being seen by motorists is speed. I reckon that cycling below about 20 km/h is safer than at 25 km/h or more. Not only do motorists have more chance to see you, but you also have more chance to stop in a hurry if needed.

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