How to Avoid Dangerous Drivers While Cycling

Drivers You Should Watch Out ForIn a perfect world, cyclists would have a lane above the road. Or at least always have the right of way. Not happening. So learn to avoid dangerous drivers.

When drivers are considerate, sharing the road rarely a problem. Many cities are bike-friendly, and even tourists are alerted to watch out for cyclists by signage and bikers themselves.

However, certain cities are not as accommodating, and even the most seasoned bikers will be tested by drivers occasionally. When I moved to Boston, I started biking to and from work. The hills and mileage were not a problem at all, but the drivers certainly were.

For most beginners–myself included–the most difficult part of the process is getting used to the enormous vehicles constantly whirring by your side. I was terrified at first, and only after a few weeks did I finally become comfortable with sharing the road.

Even on bike tours you’ll need to watch out for drivers, and often in those most desolate areas of a long tour, drivers are not looking out for you. Of course, traveling in large groups makes it safer, but you’ll need to be cautious.

Both on bike tours and in my everyday cyclist commuting, I’ve learned the signs and signals of dangerous drivers, and here’s what you should look out for.

Five Signals of a Dangerous Driver

Even an excellent driver can make a mistake and forget to watch out for bikers, so you never know when your life could be in danger. Look out for the following signals that the drivers around you might require extra attention.

Drivers on their Cell Phones

In many states, driving while talking on a cell phone or texting is illegal. Of course, that doesn’t mean people won’t do it, and you need to be extra careful around them.

Even if they have their eyes on the road, there’s a good chance they’re lost in conversation. While they might notice the usual traffic signals such as stop signs and brake lights, there’s a good chance their autopilot brains aren’t watching for bikers.

If you notice that a driver is on their cell phone, use extra caution around them. Act as if they’re taking their driving test or driving blind folded, and allow them to make the first move in whatever situation you’re faced with.

Drivers Hugging the Shoulder

If you’re lucky enough to be cycling in an area with a bike lane, you’ll have space to move freely even when drivers hug the shoulder. However, in areas with no bike lanes, these drivers are dangerous.

Drivers that are hugging the shoulder are probably distracted in another way. They might be fiddling with the radio, texting, daydreaming, or they might even be under the influence and trying to be extra careful.

If you notice that a driver approaching you is especially close to the shoulder and you have no bike lane, you should consider pulling over, if it’s safe. There are far too many videos around the web of bikers being plowed down by such drivers, and it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Cyclists with a bike lane should just use caution and let them pass.

Anyone in a Parking Spot

In most cities, the bike lane is next to the line of parked cars on the right. Even in areas without a bike lane, you might find yourself riding alongside a row of cars. These parked cars serve as one of the most dangerous threats to bikers.

Especially if you’re touring and keeping up with a group, you always need to use caution when going by these cars. Many of my friends and I have either been knocked off our bikes or forced into traffic when a parked driver swings his or her door open.

When biking by parked cars, look for brake lights. Usually, these people are just stepping out of their cars, and they’ll open the door at any moment. Approach them slowly so that you have time to stop if they swing open the door.

Ideally, everyone would check the rearview mirror before opening their door into a bike lane. However, on tours especially, you might be biking through areas where people aren’t used to bikers.

Drivers Avoiding your Gaze

When you’re at an intersection, your instincts will probably tell you to look around at each driver and make sure they see you. That way, you’ll know that you’re in the clear to go straight or even turn with speed.

Sometimes, you’ll be at an intersection and a driver might avoid your gaze. It’s easy to tell when they’re purposely not looking at you, especially when you’re dressed in an appropriately bright color.

If a driver is avoiding your gaze, try not to get angry and give them the right of way instead. They’re probably in a hurry and they want to pretend they don’t see you so that they can make a swift left turn or speed in front of you. While it’s certainly maddening, testing them would be risking your own life, and it’s always better to just let them have their way. After all, they’re much bigger than you.

Similarly, watch out for drivers who seem to be creeping up to the stop light in anticipation of the green or not stopping at all. They’re also trying to get ahead, and they won’t have their eye out at all.

Pushy Drivers in Shared Lanes

There are a few places in Boston on my daily commute where I need to simply take the full lane and hope the cars behind me are okay with it. In these areas, the law states that a biker has the same rights as a car, but drivers sometimes disagree.

If you are ever faced with a situation where you need to take the full lane, do so confidently. You’ll probably need to do so over small bridges or on narrow side streets. If the drivers behind you slowly follow without a fuss, you’ll be fine.

However, if they start honking or following too closely, you should let them pass. You’ll want to rebel and hold your ground, and you can if you feel confident enough. Though, many bikers feel stressed by the pressure and therefore might make a mistake. Your nerves might make you miss a pothole or ignore a stop sign.

These drivers are the worst, but giving them the chance to pass you is all you can do to ensure your own safety, especially if you’re touring in an unfamiliar area. Luckily, these drivers are rare in areas where cyclists are common.

Unfortunately, biking safely is not always in your control. As long as there are cars on the road, you need to watch out for them. Few people are out to plow bikers down, but these same people will often make careless mistakes.

In summary, look out for the following signals while you bike:

  • Drivers talking on their cell phone or texting
  • People driving too close to the side of the road
  • Drivers that have just parked in spots to your right
  • Drivers that avoid your gaze at intersections
  • People that don’t share narrow lanes

With these things and more on your radar, you’ll be less likely to fall victim to careless or rude drivers while you enjoy your bike tour or commute.

Here is some additional information from our writer John on accident prevention.

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About Leanne

Leanne is a writer and musician living in Boston. Her interest in cycling was born when she realized how convenient biking in the city was, and it has evolved from there. Whether biking down the street for dinner or across the city for band practice with a bass on her back, Leanne has become an avid urban biker.

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