Photo London Metropolitan Police
Cycle Task Force Advice
Cycling could be even safer – fact. There is a lot of interest in making the streets and junctions safer for cyclists. Here at the Cycle Task Force, we’re actively involved in making suggestions, evaluating new ideas and proposing sites for attention. But did you know that you can make every street safer next time you get on your bike? Most serious crashes fall into one of seven categories, so it’s relatively straightforward to make ourselves even safer. Even better, it doesn’t mean making big changes to the way we ride; we’re only talking about a few sensible precautions.
Most serious cycling collisions involve other vehicles and we usually come off worse. The only effective way to stay safe is by riding skilfully and smartly, taking responsibility for our own safety Police drivers and motorcyclists are taught “roadcraft”, which relies heavily on anticipation – asking “what if?” and considering a range of options. Think of the following as your “ridecraft”.
1. HGVs The number one killer of cyclists in London: lorries turning at junctions. More than half the fatal crashes in the capital happen because of this. So keep yourself safe and seen at junctions. If the lorry driver – sat high up in his cab – hasn’t spotted you before the lights go green, you could end up in a dangerous situation.
What went wrong? 1. HGV pulls up at the red traffic light, deliberately leaving a large gap along its nearside, giving it room to turn. 2. Cyclist spots the gap and promptly rides directly into this space, stopping alongside the nearside door of the HGV’s cab – in the driver’s blind spot. 3. Lights change. Cyclist and HGV move off, but HGV driver is unaware of cyclist and turns left which could lead to a fatal accident.
How to avoid a dangerous situation: 1. The first and safest option is to hang back and wait behind for the HGV to manoeuvre, keeping yourself clear of danger. 2. The second option is to pass down the right-hand side of the HGV – provided you are sure that a) the HGV is not turning right and b) there are no other hazards on the right-hand side. 3. If you decide to pass the truck, then once you get in front of it, make sure the driver has seen you. Stop at the front of the stop-box, at least 2m ahead of the cab and make eye contact with the driver.
Cycle Task Force Guidance: HGVs often bear stickers saying ‘If you can’t see my mirrors, I can’t see you’. But being able to see the mirrors doesn’t guarantee that the driver has seen you. The only way to be sure the driver has seen you is to get well ahead of the cab and make eye contact. So consider all the circumstances. Is the lorry indicating? Has the driver seen you? Is there room to pass safely on the right-hand side? If in any doubt, hang back.
2. Roundabouts Roundabouts are designed to keep the traffic flowing, but you’re out in the open. The second exit is your target, but what’s the safest way to get there? It’s vital to pick the line of least resistance.
What went wrong? 1. You’re approaching a roundabout and you want to go straight on – in this case, the second exit. Complying with the Highway Code, you elect to stay in the left-hand lane. 2. The driver of the car waiting to emerge onto the roundabout expects you to take the first exit, second-guesses your manoeuvre and pulls out (or the one behind you thinks the same and side-swipes you). 3. You wanted exit number two but you’ve collided with the car instead.
How to avoid a dangerous situation: 1. The Highway Code prescribes the left-hand lane of roundabouts for cyclists, regardless of the intended exit. However, if your exit is past the twelve o’clock position, it may be safer to take the same approach as other vehicles – the second lane. This will give motorists a better idea of your intended exit. 2. If you decide to keep to the left-hand lane, take a defensive position, a good metre out from the kerb – this will make it more obvious that you are not yet exiting the roundabout. 3. Do a life-saver check over your left shoulder before exiting the roundabout to make sure no vehicles have snuck up your inside, and if necessary give a hand signal to make it clear you are about to manoeuvre.
Cycle Task Force Guidance: Be as predictable as possible to other road users. Correct, defensive positioning on the road goes a long way towards indicating to drivers which exit you intend to take. Think like a car driver. The cars around you may not make special allowances for you just because you’re on a bike and exposed to greater risk than they are.
3. Door Floored Q: When does a stationary car become a hazard? A: When its door swings open into your path when you’re least expecting it. Steer well clear to stay out of harm’s way.
What went wrong? 1. You’re riding along, approaching a row of parked cars. 2. You check your right shoulder and safely move out to pass the cars. 3. As you get alongside the first parked car, suddenly the driver’s door swings open and bang. Your handlebars clip the door, which sends you pirouetting down the road.
How to avoid a dangerous situation: 1. The biggest mistake here was positioning. You didn’t leave enough room between the stationary car and the widest part of your bike. 2. Remember that on a bike you are considerably wider than your shoulder’s width, the width you’re used to squeezing through as a pedestrian. Make sure there is plenty of space on the road ahead to allow you to give plenty of room to pass. 3. Move out early to make yourself visible in the parked car’s mirrors, and pass leaving plenty of space – the width of a car’s door plus a little more. This allows room for your handlebars and pedals etc.
Cycle Task Force guidance: Moving out to give yourself plenty of space to pass parked cars means any motorists behind you may have to slow down and wait to overtake you, especially if you’re climbing a hill. Be courteous and acknowledge their patience. A little human interaction can have a powerful effect and cultivating mutual respect helps keep us all safe. It’s often possible to correctly predict a car door swinging open. Look in the driver’s mirror and through the rear window. Is the car occupied? If so, be on high alert. Read the signs and ride defensively.
4. Filtering Fiasco Filtering can get you ahead of the traffic and save time but can also be potentially hazardous, even fatal.
What went wrong? 1. The traffic is queued, moving at a creeping pace, and you’re filtering through it by zooming down the outside (or inside). 2. A car in the queue has stopped to allow another car to emerge and turn right. It drives directly into your path before you have a chance to react. 3. Your bike has smashed into the car’s wing and you’re flying over the roof.
How to avoid a dangerous situation: 1. Speed: are you filtering at a speed that makes allowances for unexpected events? If not, slow down. Queued traffic can conceal a multitude of potential hazards. 2. Read the road: ask yourself, why is there a gap in the queue of traffic up ahead? Is there a side-road or entrance from which a car is waiting to emerge? If so, be prepared – and don’t presume that the driver will see you. 3. Cover the brakes: be alert, ready to slow down and if necessary to take evasive action. An emerging car need not spell unavoidable disaster.
Cycle Task force guidance: The road environment is full of clues. Read them, and they will alert you to impending hazards. Just as a stationary bus means pedestrians might be about to emerge, a break in the traffic means there could be a hidden vehicle about to pull out. Junctions and side roads are usually obvious, but entrances and driveways far less so. Consider the entire landscape, not just the roads.
5. Red Light Recklessness Traffic lights are there for a reason: to prevent vehicles smashing into each other. Riding through red lights is hazardous to you and to motorists.
What went wrong? 1. You’re cycling towards a set of traffic lights and they change to red. 2. You’re in a hurry, late for work, and in a split-second instant of impatient, foolhardy judgement you decide to ignore the right light and plough on. 3. A vehicle proceeding legally albeit swiftly, through a green light is unable to stop in time and crashes into you.
How to avoid a dangerous situation: 1. Red means STOP, so stop. Refusing to do so puts you and others in danger.
Cycle Task Force guidance: There’s no excuse for not stopping at a red light. Not stopping at red lights on a bike – regardless of the illegality – is far too risky.
Witnessing cyclists riding through red lights is a major cause of resentment among drivers. At some point you’ll need a driver to act kindly towards you, for instance by giving you a space in traffic. Creating the right impression will help all of us.
6. Pedestrian Peril Where did they come from? A split-second ago the route ahead was completely clear – now it’s very much occupied in the shape of a vulnerable pedestrian dragging their shopping trolley.
What went wrong? 1. You’re pedalling along and suddenly an elderly woman steps directly into your path, leaving you only milliseconds to react. 2. You brake and swerve as best you can, but there’s no way to avoid contact, you clip her shopping trolley and skid into a parked car.
How to avoid a dangerous situation: 1. The clue in this scene is the stationary bus stop. You should have suspected that pedestrians might be preparing to cross the road. 2. Be wary of pedestrians and places where they could be concealed, such as between parked cars and behind road furniture. If in doubt, play it safe and slow down.
Cycle Task Force guidance: Many people aren’t aware that there is not a law against jaywalking in the UK. If a pedestrian steps out and causes you to crash, you’ve little recourse to law, apart from civil proceedings. It’s your responsibility to watch out for pedestrians.
We should be looking for clues that might warn us that someone is about to step out into our path – be aware that high-sided vehicles narrow your field of vision. Pedestrians often check for motor vehicles, and fail to consider that we can get through small gaps like cycle lanes. Survey the whole scene – between and even beneath stationary vehicles – you may catch sight of a pair of feet before they step out in front of you. Is that delivery man distracted by his phone? Has the elderly woman seen or heard you? Read people’s behaviour and body language, and ready yourself accordingly.
7. Straight-line Squeeze You’re riding along a straight road with no obvious hazards in sight when suddenly a truck appears alongside you and it’s getting perilously close. The straight-line crush is a cruel type of crash but not uncommon. However, there are effective steps you can take to stay safe.
What went wrong? 1. You’re happily cycling along in a defensive position on a straight road enjoying your daily commute. Adjacent, in the next lane, travelling at roughly the same speed is a truck driver who is likewise minding his own business. Neither party is aware of any imminent danger. 2. A gap in traffic appears ahead of you. The truck driver spots the gap but does not spot you. He manoeuvres left. 3. The next thing that happens is a direct sideswipe, knocking you from your bike. How to avoid disaster: 1. Ok, you did nothing wrong, but what could you have done differently? Think about your position. Here the usual defensive position, roughly 1m out from the kerb, is not the safest. You would have stood more chance had you been tucked in. Better still, staying in front of or behind the truck. 2. Pay attention to the traffic around you. Who’s doing what? Have the drivers seen you? Are they distracted? Are they about to manoeuvre? Expect the unexpected; be ever-ready to react.
Cycle Task Force guidance: The best defence against this type of incident is to be aware of the vehicles around you and be forever asking yourself, “What are they about to do?” Keeping pace with a large vehicle can be dangerous and how can you be sure that the driver knows you’re there? If you’re not sure, drop back. The defensive or primary position isn’t always the safest. Consider the possibility that it might be safer in certain circumstances to be tucked in next to the kerb. Read the road ahead. What’s coming up that may cause the traffic around you to change their course? Again, it’s about pre-empting danger as much as you can.