Tag Archives | cyclists

Know your lines

Usually the centre of the road is marked by a broken white line, with lines that are shorter than the gaps. However, when the lines become longer than the gaps this is a hazard warning line. Look well ahead for these, especially when you are planning to overtake or turn off. If there is a continuous double white line down the centre of the road, this means it would be dangerous to overtake. You are only allowed to cross continuous lines to pass a stationary vehicle, a cyclist, horse or road maintenance vehicle travelling at 10mph or less, and to enter premises or a side road.

Going Dutch

It’s easy to open your car door automatically, without thinking or looking. Even if you do glance in your door mirror, you can still miss a passing cyclist if they’re close and in your mirror’s blind spot. Instead, always open your door using the ‘Dutch Reach.’ Originating in the Netherlands in the 1960s, this method involves opening the driver’s car door with your left hand. This forces your head to look directly to the side and towards the rear of the car, eliminating the blind spot, and allowing full visibility of the immediate area. A good reason to go Dutch.

Keep a lookout

Who has heard of SMIDSY (‘Sorry mate, I didn’t see you’)? This is a regular acronym in a motorcyclist’s dictionary and often a driver’s retort when looking for a culprit. The science behind this is called saccadic masking. The simple explanation is that people don’t see clearly when their head or eyes are moving, and don’t pick up objects travelling towards them very well. So, the next time you’re behind the wheel make sure you have a good look, not just a quick glance. A good tip is that if you’re specifically looking for motorcyclists or cyclists, then you are more likely to see them.

Cycle rights

Just like drivers, cyclists are entitled to use the full-width of the lane. Cyclists generally do this more in urban areas to avoid drivers opening car doors in their path. They might also deliberately ride in the centre of the road to avoid potholes and drains, or to force drivers to overtake them properly, rather than trying to squeeze past where there isn’t enough space to do so safely. Remember, if there is a cycle lane, cyclists have no obligation to use it but motorists must not drive or park in a cycle lane during its hours of operation. Again, cycling side-by-side is perfectly legal, and can even work in your favour if a group of cyclists is riding together because overtaking a group is faster and easier than having to overtake individuals. The Highway Code does, however, recommend cycling in single file if the road is narrow or busy, or when cycling round a bend.

Unlit roads

The first rule of driving on roads that have no lighting is never drive at a speed where you would be unable to stop within the distance your headlights show to be clear. Standard headlights provide about 30 metres of visibility when dipped and 100 metres on full beam (the length of a football pitch). On an unlit road you should use full beam, however, the moment you see a vehicle, pedestrian or cyclist approaching you must turn your headlights to dip. If you’re driving on a straight level road and see a vehicle approaching, turn your headlights to dip a second after they are able to see you. This shows them that you have gone on to dip, and may remind them to do the same. You should then slow down, as the distance you can see to be clear will be reduced. If no other traffic is approaching, return to full beam as soon as the vehicle has passed you.

Overtaking another vehicle at night can be hazardous. Remember, your view ahead will be limited with bends and dips cloaked in darkness. These can easily hide other road users. Never takes risks. Be certain that the road ahead is clear. Once you have drawn level with the vehicle you are overtaking switch your headlights to full beam if there are no vehicles ahead of you. If a driver overtakes you, then keep your headlights on full beam until they are level with you. The extra light will help them overtake you safely. Once they pull past you turn your headlights to dip until they are gone.

Cyclists at lights

To get a better understanding of the risks cyclists face, perhaps you should consider a cycle ride yourself? One important point to remember is never drive into the ‘advanced stop area’ for cyclists at traffic lights – it is against the Highway Code and specially designed to allow cycles to be positioned ahead of other traffic. You must stop at the first white line reached if the lights are amber or red. You should also avoid blocking the way or encroaching on the marked area at other times, for example, if the junction ahead is blocked. If your vehicle has gone over the first white line as the signal goes red, you must stop at the second white line even if your vehicle is in the marked area. When the green light shows always allow cyclists time and space to move off safely.

Always an eagle eye

The habit of scanning repeatedly and regularly is the sign of a good driver. This means using your eyes in a scanning motion that sweeps the whole environment – the far distance, the middle distance, the foreground, the sides and rear of your car -– to build up a complete picture of what is happening around you. Scanning should be a continuous process, so when a new view opens out in front of you, you quickly scan the new scene and know where the areas of risk are.

It’s worth noting that what we see depends to a large extent on what we expect to see. You may have pulled out and missed seeing a bicycle or motorbike coming from the direction in which you have just looked. Mistakes of this kind are common because you’re generally looking for cars or lorries, not other road users. We find it easier to detect objects that we expect to see, and react more quickly to them, often failing to see objects that we don’t expect. For this reason it’s important to give as much attention to observation and anticipation on routes you use every day as on journeys you’re making for the first time.

Clearer night vision

Driving at night can be a challenge due to the reduction in visibility of other vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians and headlight glare. A few simple maintenance tricks can make night-time driving safer and easier. Many drivers neglect cleaning their car windows and although this basic maintenance sounds obvious, it’s not necessarily about the dirt you can see on the windows.

The front windscreen in particular gets dirty on the outside, but can also acquire a thin hazy film on the inside. This can be due to smoking and car heaters, but also something called ‘outgassing’ caused by plastic vinyls releasing plasticisers into your car’s interior.

Plasticisers provide interior vinyl plastics with flexibility and durability but are released into the air, particularly on warmer days and can cover the inside windscreen (and other windows) in a waxy thin covering. This waxy film is hardly noticeable during daylight, but reduces visibility when driving at night as it becomes noticeable in the increased glare from other vehicles’ headlights. Fortunately, this film can be easily removed by a water and vinegar solution.

Overtaking cyclists

The Highway Code recommends leaving a full car’s width when you overtake a cyclist. This might seem like a lot of space, but what if the cyclist has to suddenly swerve around a pothole or tries to dodge an animal darting out from the hedgerow? Best to give them the extra space. You should also give them more room during wet weather and try not to splash them as you overtake.

Indicating and overtaking cyclists

Whether to indicate when overtaking a cyclist depends on the situation. If, for example, there’s a cyclist ahead and oncoming traffic, it depends on the width of the road. If it’s wide enough to overtake the cyclist safely, but may result in your car being positioned a little towards the centre of the road, a signal will benefit oncoming traffic as it will show your intention to overtake the cyclist.

During the same situation, if the road isn’t wide enough to pass the cyclist and you need to slow down and wait for oncoming vehicles to pass, a signal may be of benefit to vehicles behind. If you feel a vehicle is driving too close behind you, or may not see the cyclist you intend to slow down for, a signal to the right before slowing down will provide cars behind with an indication of a potential hazard ahead.

However, it’s not necessary to indicate every time you pass a cyclist as other drivers may think you’re making a turn. You must assess each situation and indicate only if you think the benefits of doing so will increase the safety of yourself and others.