When Are Cyclists at Fault for Car/Bike Collisions? Almost Always
This post has stuck with me in part because it relates a close call I had with a car, and partly because I see cyclists often doing dumb things on the road. Not necessarily illegal things, but not identifying danger zones and riding cautiously but assertively in traffic. That is the fault of the cyclist, but also the fault of our lack of driver and rider education in this country. It's no wonder that some of the best cycling countries in the world have extensive bicycle education programs that start at a young age.
On my way home from work on Saturday I had one of the closest calls on my bike that I’ve ever had with a car. Or more accurately, a mini-van. It’s one of those common scenarios for a bicyclist, traveling in a right hand lane and an auto approaches the road from the right on a side street looking to make a left hand turn across my lane. Without pausing to thoroughly check both ways they pull out and hit the cyclist who clearly has the right of way. In my case the minivan driver started out across the lane just as I went by and came within inches of clipping the right back end of my bike. It was only after I turned around to yell and get a good look that I saw that he was on his cell phone and almost completely oblivious to my presence.
After calming down and the adrenaline subsided a bit I couldn’t help but remember that I was about a quarter of a mile away from the ghost bike memorial for David Pumphrey I took part in the ghost ride in his honor along with dozens of other cyclists.
In thinking about my close call, I had to admit that in reality, it was my fault that I almost got hit. I don’t mean in a legal sense. I most certainly had the law on my side (although the police typically do a bad job of enforcing the law when a cyclist is hit). And I don’t mean ethically. There is nothing ethical about running down a cyclist in a 2 ton piece of metal. But, as a cyclist I think that for the most part cyclists must be hyper aware of their surroundings and know how to make sure to be seen, double-check eye contact with drivers, use hand-signals, and simply make their presence known and recognize the potential for a bad situation before it happens.
In this case, the mini-van had very tinted windows making eye-contact impossible to confirm, but I was riding wearing a multi-colored jersey on a bright orange bike on a bright mid-day ride, and I was only going about 16 mph. But in the end I shouldn’t have assumed (hoped) that the driver saw me.
It seems to me about the only time we as cyclists have to just have some measure of faith that we are seen is when cars approach us from behind and we assert our place in the road while giving drivers the appropriate amount of space for the given lane width and driving conditions.
Over the many years I have biked on city streets I have had very few (amazingly few, really) close calls. Knock on wood. This is certainly because of the hyper awareness I mentioned above. There are times that I have felt almost a sixth sense about what the cars around me doing so I know exactly the safest (and usually legal) place to be.
In the end perhaps the most unnerving thing about my close call was that my instincts failed me and it was a good eye-opener for me as to the potential dangers all cyclists can face on the roads. Never be complacent, wear a helmet, and ride assertively but safely.
For over 12 Years I wrote the Reno Rambler Blog covering everything from Bicycle Advocacy, Reno Politics, Popular Culture, and my experiences as a long-time cyclist.