Wednesday, February 3, 2010

"The Right Hook"

An all-too-common accident involving a bicycle and a car occurs when a right-turning driver crosses into the path of a cyclist to his right.

Who is to blame for such an accident? Sometimes it's not easy to determine.

The Boise City Council recently voted unanimously to clarify one scenario.

"When a motor vehicle and a bicycle are traveling in the same direction on any highway, street, or road, the operator of the motor vehicle overtaking such bicycle traveling on the right side of the roadway shall not turn to the right in front of the bicycle at an intersection, alley, or driveway until such vehicle has overtaken the bicycle and has sufficient clearance to safely turn without requiring the bicyclist to brake or take evasive action to avoid a collision with the vehicle."

Anybody who has been riding on public roadways for any length of time has had a close call or two.

One of my first was when a 50-something redneck cowboy in a big Buick (I know, because he had his 10 gallon hat on) went around a corner in exactly the maneuver described by the new ordinance. And he was looking straight at me the whole time... obviously he was of the opinion I didn't belong, and was going to demonstrate why. (I had to go halfway around the corner with him to avoid the collision, even though my intended direction was straight.)

Some cyclists like to "take the lane" as they approach intersections, and that is a sound strategy.

I'll tend to remain "as far to the right as practicable," keep a close eye on my rearview mirror, and proceed cautiously. If there's a red light and plenty of room for me to roll on up to the intersection (or a bike lane), I'll roll on up. It is NOT illegal to do so, although rider beware! Make sure the guy next to you knows you are there, and don't block the path of a right-hand turn. (What is illegal is for a motorist to make a right turn without signaling. But I'm amazed how often I end up in a situation where some bozo is turning without signaling... and it's somehow my fault I didn't know his intentions! Cyclists are not psychic... although surviving, healthy cyclists tend to be quite intuitive.)

Portland has a rather innovative effort to mitigate the right hook - they call it the "bike box." According to the website, "the bike box is an intersection safety design to prevent bicycle/car collisions, especially those between drivers turning right and bicyclists going straight. It is a green box on the road with a white bicycle symbol inside. It includes green bicycle lanes approaching and leading from the box. ... it's all about visibility and awareness." (Of course, such innovation could only be found in the "most bicycle-friendly city"!!)

Back to the earlier question... who is to blame when there's an accident? Ultimately, that is of secondary importance. A smart cyclist will expect the worst, and will therefore never be (too) surprised by lack of awareness on the part of a motorist. (It's much better to mentally take the credit for accident-averted, than assigning the blame for the accident!)


bob t said...

I find that a mirror is absolutely essential. Even if motorists don't signal you can often tell what they are going to do by monitoring their speed and trajectory as they approach from behind. One can then make adjustments in order to avoid potential conflicts.

A mirror allows me to ride proactively rather than reactively.

Scott said...

Will this be enforced? That remains to be seen.

I'd also like to see them ban cars sticking their noses (Or half their car) into the bicycle lane while they wait for an opening in traffic. I don't know how many times I've had to hop curbs or take the lane because of a thoughtless motorist completely blocking my lane.

Bikeboy said...

Scott, I'm sure it's already illegal for cars to occupy the bike lanes. (Every now and then, you'll hear motorists bemoaning the spot enforcement during rush hour on Eagle Road, or the like.)

And that probably indicates the level of enforcement we should expect for the "upgraded" right hook law.

Isn't it odd that some motorists apparently believe they have a "leg up" on everybody else who's turning, because they're positioned 3 or 4 feet farther to the right in the queue?

(If they paid attention to their NASCAR, they'd realize they should be positioned far to the left instead, so the turn angle isn't quite so acute. But I digress.)