Safety tips for cyclists

Safety advice aimed at cyclists is nothing new, but in my experience it often tends to descend into little more than a motorists’ wish list for cyclist behaviour. Even worse is advice based on the false assumption that law breaking on the part of cyclists is the lead cause of cyclist injuries and fatalities. Instead, I thought it might be worthwhile to share my own experiences in the hope they might be useful to others.

Reading the road

Cycling on UK roads is a baptism of fire and anyone who has been doing it for any length of time will have learned to read the road ahead. The same cannot be said for everyone else. A worrying number of other road users will fail to consider what the road conditions will require of them 100, 50 or even 15 metres ahead of where they currently are. This failure is the root cause of several initially baffling behaviours. It is the reason that motorists will sometimes perform a risky overtake only to have to immediately stop at the end of a queue of traffic which was readily visible when the manoeuvre was started. It is the reason why a motorist may overtake you only to immediately make a left turn, or pull into a roadside parking bay. It is the reason why a motorist may overtake you on a cramped residential street only to immediately stop block your progress to allow an oncoming vehicle to pass, even though had they waited, there would have been sufficient room for you on a bike and the oncoming vehicle to proceed at the same time.

Roundabouts

Sometimes it almost seems as if roundabouts were left behind by an advanced but long lost civilisation and no-one is sure what they were built for or how their builders intended them to be used. The lack of a small set of standard approaches to roundabouts certainly doesn’t help. The rules of roundabouts are fairly straightforward, but there are several things to look out for.

The general principle of giving way to traffic already on the roundabout may not apply to you when you are on your bike if the other party is driving a luxury German car, such as a BMW, Audi or Mercedes-Benz. If you are already on the roundabout and encounter one of these vehicles waiting to get on, you may be expected to give way.

There are some road users who will use the other lane of a multi-lane roundabout regardless of the exit they wish to use. These people pose a risk to you when you are getting on a roundabout, as their road positioning suggests they are intending to leave the roundabout even though this is not the case.

‘Taking the lane’ is an unfortunate necessity on most roundabouts (effectively excluding most people from cycling them) but beware that some motorists will try to bully you to the periphery of the roundabout regardless of which exit you wish to use.

Finally, it is not uncommon to see motorists leave a roundabout whilst still indicating right. The result of this misleading signalling should be that you do not enter the roundabout even though the opportunity was there. However, in areas where this behaviour is particularly prevalent, it is important to beware of this behaviour becoming normalised; you could end up pulling onto a roundabout in front of a car which really is staying on.

Professional drivers

In an ideal world, professional drivers (delivery vans, taxi drivers etc.) and our interactions with them would be exactly that; professional. Sadly, in practice this is often not the case. I can only surmise that when driving becomes a major part of a person’s job they will often become blasé about it and safety suffers as a result. Add to this business models which encourage or even necessitate illegal behaviour and we have a recipe for unpleasant encounters. Thankfully, professional drivers are generally easy to identify by way of their commercial vehicles, so at least you’ll know to expect the worst when you see them. The ease with which commercial vehicles can be identified makes reporting bad driving much easier than with private cars, although typically just as fruitless.

Texting

I have covered this issue before. Thankfully, providing the vehicle is not a pimpmobile with tinted windows, it is at least possible to spot the characteristic position a driver’s head adopts if they are reading from a phone screen whilst driving. Spotting this characteristic tilt a few weeks ago probably prevented a collision between a texting motorist and myself on a roundabout in Wrexham. So engrossed in her texting was this driver that she failed to even register my loud subsequent significant list of graphic expletives.

Indicators

As mentioned above for roundabouts, indicators are not to be trusted. Most common is the  lack of indication by a driver about to attempt a manoeuvre, but it is not uncommon to see a driver indicating the wrong way, leaving an indicator on long, long after a turn has been made or indicating a turn of a particular direction several opportunities to make a turn in that direction prior to the one they wish to take. It is especially useful to be distrustful of turn signals when pulling out of a side road; just because the driver on the road you wish to join is indicating to turn down your road often doesn’t mean they actually will.

If there are any other tips or seemingly bizarre driver behaviours anyone feels I have missed, please share them through the comments.

6 thoughts on “Safety tips for cyclists

  1. Leaving Albert Square in Manchester from a traffic grid locked Christmas market encountering a taxi driver on completely the wrong side of the road futilely attempting to by-pass the static queue and join the grid lock around the Town Hall in (Mad)chester. Looking at him head on from 5 yards in the start position he waved and mouthed “sorry” with a guilty smile – natural reaction usually but not expected from a taxi driver. Obviously, my behaviour was bizarre ‘cos I could easily filter passed the offending vehicle approaching head on, I suppose I was making a point which he delightfully blunted.

  2. Plenty of downright baffling incidents experienced as a result of drivers unable/unwilling to read the road. Its clear where the problem lies, and its not the lack of high vis & helmet

  3. As a professional driver of big rigs (HGV’s in your dialect) a.k.a.tractor-trailers or articulated lorries, I am forced to learn to read the road ahead. The enormous size of my vehicle means it cannot stop nor turn on the proverbial dime or ha’penny. I seriously need to know what goes on ahead. The smaller the vehicle, the less the imperative to look ahead.

    To correct this oversight, driver-training for cars should include the act of looking ahead –even in the smallest of autos. It should also be included in the road-test.

    I also have acquired the art of reading the body language of vehicles and what their intentions may be in my present line of work.

    I wonder if the Germans, themselves, cover these topics in their driver-training courses. Germans are famous for having the strictest & most comprehensive driver-training courses on the Continent –if not the world.

  4. Under “Reading the road” you might have added speed humps and tables. Vehicles will overtake you only to slow down as they approach one of these, forcing you to slow down when, on a bike, you don’t actually need to. There is a stretch of Upper Ground, the road which passes by the South Bank centres in London (and which is closed to cyclist for the next year while construction work goes on) which is a favoured rat-run of taxis heading to Waterloo station. These are the worst, presumably because the cabbies don’t want to shake up their fares too much, or perhaps because the classic London cab is an overpriced pile of crap with rotten suspension along with its poor emissions standards

    You might have added a section on other traffic calming measures, such as chicanes and pinchpoints, which seem to have the opposite effect whenever a cyclist is anywhere nearby. Any motor vehicle will put on a burst of speed, probably above the limit, so as to get past you before the road narrows. Frequently they misjudge it and cut extremely close. Quite often they then also feature under reading the road – all their efforts are in vain because they have to stop for oncomiong traffic the other side of the pinchpoint.

    Pinchpoints seem to be the road construction du jour at the moment in London, alongside general road narrowing which ostensibly is to provide pedestrians with wider footways or central medians to aid crossing without formal crossing points (and neither of which is much used by the pedestrians in situ) but which surreptitiously is intended to prevent (yeah, right) motor vehicles from overtaking cyclists, so that the latter acts as a form of rolling speed hump. Nice! Cheapside was turned from a fairly pleasant and heavily used cycle route into a complete nightmare for cyclists and motorists alike by just such developments. The City is threatening to replicate this pattern around its patch but hopefully the widespread protests will make them think again.

    Some pinchpoints have cycle bypasses so you don’t have to go through the pinch with the cars, but as any number of pics posted in blogs demonstrate, parking right across the mouths of these is a particular joy for car owners.

    Professional drivers: well, what does THAT mean? Apart from HGV and PSV drivers, anyone with a bog standard driving licence can drive for a living. Try that with a private pilot’s licence and you are likely to end up with a multi-thousand fine and possibly a prison sentence. So I guess you mean paid drivers (with all due respect to Highwayman above).

    Mind you, HIghwayman might well sympathise with this – many if not most paid drivers these days work under pretty oppressive terms. Take Addison Lee, for example. Their drivers are not employees – they lease the cars from the company and receive the fares collected from customers (minus a handling charge, perhaps?). They have to cover a fixed weekly charge from variable and unstable per-trip receipts. So far no different from a London Hackney driver or other ply-for-hire cabbie, except that AdLee fares are fixed-price, in distance bands, which take no account of time taken due to traffic conditions. Drivers will naturally want to complete a trip as fast as possible because that way he is ready for the next trip and can make more money.

    A similar consideration applies to a lot of other drivers, especially to tipper trucks who apparently are paid a set fee per trip – and a pretty miserable one at that. No wonder they cut corners and take risks. the safety advice has to be – stay well away from them. Pull to the side of the road and wait if necessary.

  5. The issue of poor indication seems to be growing. I wonder if it is partly down to some well publicised advice from the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) a few years ago about when you need to use them and when it is not necessary. Although the majority of their advice is sound, though I do find some of it a little bizarre, I think people just get the message that not using your indicators is a sign that you are an experienced motorist. I also think some of the advice is misleading, so they say it is not necessary to indicate if there are no other road users around, but some people don’t see cyclists as legitimate road users and therefore interpret this as advice as only applying to other motorists.

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