5 Tips for Cyclists and Drivers to Coexist in Safety

5 Tips for Cyclists and Drivers to Coexist in Safety

Lifestyle Sports

Cycling is great, but it can also get dangerous. Especially on the road, a place where disaster may lurk anywhere. Three transport experts, a professional cyclist and a world rally champion advise you how to avoid them.

14. 6. 2019

1. Overtaking at a safe distance

Overtaking seems quite simple: a car comes up behind a cyclist, waits for the right moment, and overtakes. However, it is at this point that both parties start feeling a little uneasy. While drivers think that cyclists hold them up, cyclists feel unsafe. According to ŠKODA statistics, 40% of cyclists believe that being overtaken is a dangerous manoeuvre. When being overtaken by a lorry or a bus, a full 61%, or nearly two-thirds, of riders are afraid.

However, many drivers do not realise cyclists might feel unsafe. Isabelle Beckers, the Belgian professional cyclist, sums it up: “I am aware of the fact that danger lurks around every corner. In traffic, I don’t take any risks, simply because I do not trust the drivers. You can never be completely sure that the driver can see you. Also, when I’m riding a road bike, I always go much faster than drivers would expect me to.”

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Isabelle Beckers
professional cyclist from Belgium
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Jan Kopecký
world champion in category WRC 2
ŠKODA Motorsport team

 

Luckily, there are still drivers who themselves cycle from time to time, so they understand the situations in which cyclists often find themselves. One of them is the ŠKODA Motorsport rally team’s Jan Kopecký. “I see all cyclists as part of the traffic, so I always make sure I’m not putting them in danger. It’s always better to wait and drive a bit behind the rider so that I can overtake them safely, than to deal with the unnecessary trouble of an injured cyclist,” says the fastest Czech rally driver, who last year won the WRC 2.

As a general rule, drivers must not overtake if this would compromise the safety of other road users. As this can be interpreted in various ways, some countries, such as Spain, Belgium, France, and Australia, have laws or regulations setting a minimum 1.5 metres distance to be kept while overtaking.

Safety tips

Robert Šťastný, a ŠKODA Traffic Safety Research member, thinks this distance is accurate. In his opinion, when overtaking cyclists, drivers should act as though they are overtaking a car: by going entirely into the next lane. He recommends being extra cautious if a car is towing a trailer wider than the car itself – such as a caravan. When turning, the rear corner of the trailer drifts considerably to the side, posing a significant threat for cyclists.

By behaving responsibly, cyclists can contribute their own safety as well, just like racer Jan Kopecký: “When I ride my mountain bike on the road, I try to be very cautious. When being overtaken by cars, I always try to keep to the side of the road. If I need to take a turn, I wave my hand in advance and look back at the driver to make sure they noticed me.”

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Robert Šťastný
ŠKODA Road Safety Research expert

2. Be seen

According to analyses by the ŠKODA Traffic Safety Research Centre, night accidents between cars and cyclists have more serious consequences, which can be attributed to poor visibility. “Surprisingly enough, collisions mainly occur on straight roads outside towns and cities. The cause is usually high speed. Another contributing factor is the poor luminous intensity of bicycle lights,” says Jiří Polomis from the Czech agency BESIP, which seeks to improve road safety. He advises drivers to dim the lighting of their dashboard displays so they are not dazzled by them. But a lot of the responsibility also rests with the cyclists.

So what can cyclists do for their own safety? Jiří Polomis advice is to always take both lights with them, even in the daytime. The rear light should be at least 100 lumens, and the front light should be even more, if possible. While a steady front light is recommended for night rides, during the day it’s advisable to use flashing mode, as it quickly distinguishes the cyclist from their surroundings. Although lighting is important, clothing is crucial as well. In the daylight, fluorescent colours are the best choice. At night, the best option would be high-visibility components which reflect the car headlights. Reflective bands on cyclists’ ankles have proven to be the most successful element, as they move up and down and easily catch the driver’s attention.

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3. Watch out for that car door

A cyclist is passing a row of parked cars as a driver is about to get out of one of them. Without checking the mirror, he opens the door and creates a sudden obstacle impossible for the cyclist to avoid. In 2011, 344 such accidents were registered in Chicago. This so-called “dooring” accounted for 19.7% of all cycling-related accidents recorded that year in Chicago.

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Jan Straka of the Czech Police has one piece of advice for responsible drivers. Aside from the traditional “check the mirror before you open the door”, he recommends using the “Dutch reach”. When getting out of the car, drivers should always open the door with their far hand. In continental Europe, that means the right hand, in the UK, Japan and Australia the left hand. This movement forces drivers to turn their head and check the situation directly behind the car. BESIP’s Jiří Polomis adds that drivers should inform their passengers of this obligation and check, where reasonable, how passengers get out of the car.

Safety tips

Cyclists themselves can find ways to prevent the risks of dooring. If you see a car pulling up at the side of the road, it is highly likely that someone is going to get out. Experts recommend watching out for parking cars and, when passing a row of parked cars, using the entire lane while exercising the utmost caution.

4. Beware of the right hook

Here, the experts have borrowed martial arts terminology. The right hook is a widespread phenomenon which, just like a punch in the boxing ring, can knock a cyclist out. The situation is as follows – a cyclist, riding on a bike lane or the side of the road, gets overtaken on the left-hand side by a car intending to make a right turn. Inevitably, the car crosses the bicycle’s path. If the driver suddenly swerves right in front of the cyclist’s wheel (therefore, giving them the right hook), the cyclist will unavoidably end up in the car’s right door. Naturally, for the UK, Ireland, Australia, India and all other countries where you drive on the left side of the road, it is the left hook you should beware of.

Isabelle Beckers describes a situation where a car did not give way as her worst nightmare. “The most horrific situation I’ve experienced was riding on a two-way bike lane on the left side of the road. A driver who didn’t notice me dashed from the side road on the left and cut me off. It was a fraction of a second. If he had hit me I would be dead,” remembers Isabelle.

And yet all we have to do is look around and stop rushing so much. How do you deal with a situation where your car might pose a risk to a cyclist? “When I intend to turn right, I draw closer to the cyclist from behind, slow down to their speed and line myself up behind them to carry out the turning manoeuvre the moment the cyclist is already safely passing through the intersection,” explains Jan Kopecký, a driving professional.

Safety tips

5. Cycling gets safer and safer

Despite growing numbers of drivers on the roads and denser traffic in general, cycling is becoming safer and safer. A more scientific insight into this is offered by Danish university research. According to the results, the number of cyclists in Denmark has increased by 10% over the last twenty years. At the same time, the number of cycling injuries is 55% lower. This trend is even more obvious in the capital city of Copenhagen, where cycling traffic increased by 30%, but the number of injuries decreased by 33%.

One contributing factor is the rapid development of cycling infrastructure in many countries. “I live in Belgium, a cycling empire. Drivers are used to cyclists on the road. What’s more, lots of new bike lanes are being built. We even have cycling highways to ride on. I come from Limburg, a city well-known for cycling tourism, so I cannot complain. But sometimes there’s an issue with unmaintained bike lanes not being suitable for training. In such cases we are forced to use the normal road and drivers do not particularly like that,” explains Isabelle Beckers.

Czech traffic expert Jiří Polomis thinks one of the ways to make cycling safer is an occasional role exchange. In his opinion, drivers should sometimes get on a bike, while cyclists should get in a car. Luckily, for most road users, using different kinds of transportation is a common thing, which leads to being more consideration while driving. Isabelle Beckers describes the advantages of role changing. As a driver, she checks the mirror multiple times to make sure no cyclist is approaching. On top of that, she doesn’t take any risks when cycling. “I always try to make eye contact with the driver, to make absolutely sure they see me. It’s all about mutual respect. If the driver stops or slows down to give way to the cyclist, they should always thank them. It doesn’t harm anybody. On the contrary: it is a pleasing gesture,” says the Belgian.

The more we try to understand the needs and motives of those around us, the safer roads we get. You can find additional information about safety at www.welovecycling.com/wide/safety.

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