Friday, November 26, 2010

How to Ride Safe ?

Aussie researchers have identified that drivers were at fault for most cycle accidents (*gasp*) in a survey in which cyclists were given head-cameras to record their rides.

There were only 13 riders and a 4-week period involved, (and it was 'down under' rather than in the UK) but there's some important lessons to learn if you want to stay safe, in terms of the causes of collisions and near misses.

This kind of research is difficult to do. If you analyze collisions rather than general riding, your sample is likely to include more unsafe riders. There's a risk that giving people head-cams will change their riding behaviour, but it's instructive nonetheless.

Some of the 'safe' behaviours identified were:
  • Checking left. Don't assume a vehicle will give way.
  • Riding more defensively around cars.
  • Being particularly vigilant when it comes to drivers turning left at junctions, especially if they're in a large vehicle like a 4x4 or lorry.
Riders who frequently looked over their shoulders to check for other traffic were the most successful at avoiding collisions.

All of the above seems pretty obvious to me, but maybe not to everyone. Here's a few of the things I try to do. I'm not setting myself up as an expert by the way - I'm just saying what I've found works for me. What works for you may be different - although there are some behaviours that are flat-out wrong, some things are tradeoffs involving how fast you need to be, how fit you are, how much route-research you can do, whether you're prepared to break any laws, what clothes you want to wear and how much hassle from motorists you're prepared to put up with.

  1. I use a mirror. With a mirror, I'm pretty much continuously aware of what's going on behind me.
  2. With a side road on the left. I'm usually in the centre of the road approaching it. I can see into the road better, and I can be seen better. If there's a vehicle that might emerge, I'll set myself up so that I can avoid it if it does fail to give way, either by turning into the road and going behind the vehicle, or by going to the right of it.
  3. Mindset. I try to stay relaxed and think about safety when I ride. I find that allowing other road users to wind you up makes you feel more aggressive and that makes you ride less safely. I try to think of vehicles as hazards to be avoided; almost as mobile road furniture. I try not to think about the drivers: 'de-humanizing' the vehicle helps me to stay calm.
  4. I wear hi-viz.
  5. I give pedestrians a pretty wide berth whereever they happen to be. They can be unpredictable so they're well worth avoiding. One thing I've noticed is if you ring your bell, they're likely to stop and get in your way. I generally try to pass behind them if they're crossing the road because it's less likely to startle them but I'm always prepared to give way if need be.
  6. Any risky situation I'll always have a 'Plan B' - where to bale out or swerve if I need to.
  7. Planning ahead. I try to look ahead a fair way and plan the best line.
  8. I'm very wary of any large vehicle. I avoid undertaking them, and never undertake if they might turn left.
  9. I avoid busy roads and especially multi-lane roads. (Call me a chicken if you like.)
  10. After a 'near miss', I try to figure out how I could have avoided the situation.
  11. Generally, I ride pretty fast. I try to avoid getting overtaken, but I don't deliberately try to block anyone who's determined to overtake. With my mirror, I can usually tell if they're likely to do something silly, and if so I'll get out of the way.
  12. I usually get to the front of the queue at junctions, 'take the lane' and accelerate away quickly, to minimize the chance of a dodgy overtake.
  13. I generally assume that another driver hasn't seen me, but especially if their vision is somehow obscured. That includes any van or goods vehicle, vehicles with 'privacy glass', and cold mornings where drivers have not bothered to clear frost or dew from all their windows.
Here's a the worst things I see other cyclists doing:
  1. Rear light obscured by clothing (skirts, long coats, messenger bags etc) or hanging off a bag pointing at some random angle.
  2. No lights at all. Not the smartest idea. Surprising how often I see it.
  3. Too far left. Gets you into all sorts of scrapes.
  4. Racing traffic/other cyclists. Nothing wrong with going fast, but I see some folks taking unnecessary risks to avoid slowing down.

Anyone else got any tips/tricks?

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