Tag Archives | cyclists

Dutch reach every time

Do you always check to make sure the road is clear before opening your door? Not just your rear-view and side-view mirrors, but the surrounding areas as well? Despite the Highway Code Rule 239 stating that you must ensure you do not hit anyone when opening your door, and to check for cyclists and other traffic, this rule is often ignored and to blame for plenty of incidents or doorings. This is why the Dutch Reach method of opening your car door is important and to be included in the revised Highway Code. The Dutch Reach is a simple technique to make sure you always open your door safely. Instead of automatically using the hand closest to the door, always use your hand further from the door, namely your left hand if you’re the driver. The same technique applies to passengers. This will naturally turn your body towards the window, helping you to see approaching cyclists, other cars or hazards. By using your opposite hand you’re also less likely to swing your door open widely further reducing the risk. If you get into the habit of using the Dutch Reach, even if you’re in a rush or distracted, you don’t actively have to remember to check for cyclists as you’ll be doing so automatically.

Share and share alike

There’s no doubt it can feel frustrating trailing behind a cyclist and forced to slow down as the road is too narrow to overtake or heads uphill. The point to remember here is that no one is king of the road and you have to share the space with a range of vehicles, so accept it gracefully and adjust your driving accordingly. When you do encounter cyclists, observation and quick decision-making are key. Should you try to overtake or keep a safe distance back? The answer is both. To help maintain a steady flow of traffic, you should aim to overtake cyclists as soon as it’s safe to do so. If you’re on a winding country road with blind bends, this safe widow may never appear so remain at least two or three car lengths behind them. However, if you have a clear view of the road ahead, plenty of space and no oncoming traffic, you should be good to overtake. Check your mirrors and blind spots, indicate and carefully drive around them, but don’t speed up to pass only to slow down directly in front of them as they can be travelling at speed, especially downhill. As you overtake, be sure to leave a space of at least a car’s width or a minimum of 1.5 metres at speeds of 20-30mph, and even more space at higher speeds and in poor weather. There are good reasons for this. Imagine what it’s like to stand too close to the platform edge when a fast train passes through a station. That’s how it can feel on a bike when a vehicle overtakes at 60mph without leaving sufficient room. Passing too close reduces the margin for error should the cyclist need to move suddenly to avoid potholes or puddles. It can also make them nervous and more likely to become unbalanced. In fact, cyclists are advised to keep out of the gutter and ride further from the kerb than you might think, which is why on narrow roads they move towards the middle to prevent drivers passing too closely. As the number of bike riders grow, it’s essential you adapt to their needs and respect their safety.

Master the U-turn safely

As you become more adept at manoeuvring, you’ll appreciate why a U-turn is a potentially dangerous move. In one complete manoeuvre, you undertake a 180-degree turn in the road so that your car ends up facing in the opposite direction. Don’t confuse this with a three-point turn which involves reversing. But why is it considered dangerous? Although it’s legal to make a U-turn in the UK, there are situations where the manoeuvre is prohibited and here you’ll see a ‘No U-turn’ sign displaying a red outer circle surrounding a black ‘U’ with a line through it. It’s also illegal to make the U-turn if you cross a kerb, cross double white lines in the centre of the road or on a one-way street. It should really be your last resort, for example, if the road ahead is blocked. However, the U-turn is often performed when a driver misses a turn, and often the result of a rushed decision with less thought for road safety. If you’re in doubt, pull up on the side of the road, consider your options, then make an informed decision. Ask yourself: is it safe and legal to make a U-turn here? Will I endanger or inconvenience other road users? Is the road wide enough to complete the manoeuvre in one turn? Is there clear visibility? If you must perform a U-turn it will take a few seconds to complete, so make sure the oncoming traffic is clear before starting the manoeuvre and double check for motorcyclists and cyclists. When it’s safe to do so, check your mirrors, indicate right, check your mirrors again (including any blind spots), then make the turn. Alternatively, just turn left or right at the next junction, following the traffic laws, before joining the road again in the right direction.

Time to go Dutch

Car dooring is a problem which shouldn’t really exist. A quick check before you exit your car should stop you accidentally opening your door on to a passing cyclist, motorcyclist or even pedestrian. If you’re not already familiar with the Dutch Reach, it’s a safety technique designed to quickly become a good habit. It simply involves using the hand furthest from the car door to open it – the left hand if you’re the driver, and the right if you’re a passenger. In doing so, you automatically turn your body, forcing your head to look directly to the side and towards the rear of your vehicle, eliminating the blind spot and giving you full visibility of the immediate area and any cyclist. By using the opposite hand, you’re also less likely to swing the door open widely, further reducing the risk. By adopting this habit, it also means that if you’re in a rush or distracted by conversation, for example, you don’t have to actively remember to check as you’ll automatically be opening your door safely. This useful technique has been Dutch common sense since the 1960s, and today new drivers in the Netherlands are taught the movement as part of the driving test. If you need a further cue, attach a ribbon, sticker or even rubber band near your door handle to remind you.

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.