Commuting 101: Be aware of common driver mistakes

There are three driver mistakes that cause the most accidents for bike commuters…

  1. Not obeying stop signs and pulling to far into the intersection and into your oncoming path
  2. Passing you and immediately turning right across your path
  3. Turning left in front of you as you’re going straight through an intersection

Here’s a few tips to safe guard yourself…

  • Pedal strong through intersections where you have the right of way. If drivers see you coasting they may think they have time to cut in front of you.
  • Be ready to make a fast right turn. The ability to dive into a fast, tight right turn can save your life when a driver makes one of the above mistakes. Spend some time practicing this move when your life isn’t on the line.
  • While horns, bells and whistles are useful in some situations, be prepared to yell out. It’s instant and doesn’t require moving your hands.
  • Be predictable as possible. Don’t weave in and out of lanes, hold a straight line, signal before turns, etc. The more predictable your movements are, the more comfortable drivers will be with you on the road.

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0 thoughts on “Commuting 101: Be aware of common driver mistakes”

  1. Russ says:

    Missed a couple that I think are key.

    There are three driver mistakes that cause the most accidents for bike commuters”

    4. Not all drivers use there turn signals, never pass a car on the right.

    Here’s a few tips to safe guard yourself”

    —EXPECT the unexpected (refer to points 1 through 4)drivers are idiots like the rest of us.

  2. Josh says:

    Those are certainly the big risks that I see most often.
    As an additional safeguard to add, I would say:

    *Take the lane when approaching an intersection.

    This is related to not passing on the right mentioned by Russ. If you’re visible, don’t be shy about getting out there and blocking cars from passing you only to cut you off. I find that the more I assert myself, the more people on my route learn to respect a bicycle as a legitimate vehicle sharing the road.

  3. Fritz says:

    Good point about horns and bells, Tim. If you have time to honk a horn, you have time to take evasive action. Horns are almost always an expression of road rage, anyway.

  4. Apertome says:

    Good points all around, and I agree with Josh — don’t be afraid to take the lane, especially at intersections.

    Also, if someone is following you too closely, keep in mind that a car behind you can’t stop as fast as you can. Don’t stop suddenly.

  5. Paul of N.W. GA says:

    Taking the lane most of the time reduces cars pulling out of parking lots in to you or in front. Hugging a narrow shoulder or gutter with shrubs or trees blocks the view of you. When the Fort Oglethorpe, GA Police was threatening me, one of those threats was because I take a lane on four lane roads. Over the last 4,000 miles I have not had any driver mistakes, just idiots targeting me, I know this because I catch up with most of them at the next light.

    Taking the lane is legal in Georgia if the lane is to narrow to share with motor vehicles such as trucks (ga code 40-6-294).

    Before taking a lane, check state, county and city laws. Also make sure you can be seen a long ways off, front and rear (reflectors, lights and bright colors)

    Around here it seems most motorist expect to see me on the road now.

  6. Mike in Florida says:

    I did everything right and still got hit. I wore bright clothing, reflective gear, Planet Bike Superflash blinkies, AND took the lane, and I fell victim to an inattentive motorist. Thursday of next week will be one month since I was hit, and I haven’t ridden my commute since. I was off the bike totally for a week, and have gradually been working back. First I started riding my MTB which has BMX pedals, because riding clipped in made my knee sore, and unclipping hurt my injured calf. I’ve just started riding a bike with clipless pedals, but I think it will be a while before I’m ready(physically AND mentally) to tackle my long commute again. It’s disturbing that a moment’s inattention by a STUPID REDNECK DRIVER can almost steal from me an activity I truly enjoy. Be careful out there, but all the carefulness in the world won’t protect you from a moron. Wear your helmet. It saved my life. When I actually DO get out there, I’m going to really, really TAKE THE LANE, especially on the section on which I got hit. No more of this 18-24 inch stuff. I’m taking three feet or more, and the drivers can JUST WAIT. I’d like to rig up a horizontally mounted flag about 18 inches long, too, preferably with a roofing nail superglued to the end of it.

  7. Paul of N.W. GA says:

    Mike in Florida,

    I really do feel for you, best luck to you!

    If I lived closer I would ride with you as much as you needed to get back the life you love.

    All the time I am adding something to my bike, like reflective tape on the cranks, red on one side and white on the other.

    I have also thought about adding a 24″ pole with a flag (or something solid) on the left side too.

    Car-free and happy!

  8. Mike in Florida says:

    Thanks, Paul. I have no support from my friends, family, and co-workers on this issue. Every one of them says I was lucky not to be killed or seriously injured, and that commuting again is tempting fate. I will do it again, regardless of the danger(real or perceived). It’s just that I have no real safe route. The route I chose had the shortest amount of time on an inhospitable road, and I got hit. 1/4 to 1/2 of a mile on 45mph two lane, and I did it for 5 months with no problem(consistent commuting) and for years before intermittently. The first time I ride that section I’m certain I’ll be a bit freaked. The pole is an excellent idea—–I’ve seen flags for sale online.

  9. Paul of N.W. GA says:

    Mike, The roads I ride have little or no side roads, 4 lane 45 to 55 mph, no shoulders, narrow lanes and long climbs. I ride in the center of the right lane and go as fast as I can. Everbody says I am crazy, but almost 10,000 miles says I don’t think I am. I have cars eat my tail and buzzy me with inches atleast once every three miles and have had the police threaten me. I love riding too much and beleive in it.

    I have friends who were not expecting to see me, say the saw me 1/4 to 1/2 mile away. If my day comes, I will be targeted.

    When I ride in the middle of the lane, cars have to move all the way over showing they are passing Hugging the curb, the car behind thinks they are drifting and it’s too late when they see you.

    Some motorist will come up close because they think you have no right to the road, but will not hit you.

    A drunk is going to hit you in a car or on a bike. Use a mirror and know whats behind you at all times.

    Once again, I wish you much luck and use what you have learned.

  10. Sascha says:

    Paul- I wouldn’t put myself in front of 55mph caged commuters! when the idiot putting on makeup glances up occasionally to see where they are driving and see a cyclist closing in fast, they will usually swerves while slamming on the brakes- the moron behind them usually sees a fantabulous opportunity to pass on their right, and there ya are…
    one nearly got me a month ago but I have a mirror and saw the action- jumped the curb and got out of the deathzone! The second caged driver went for the pass on the right even tho the 1st car had no street/driveway to turn left onto… “where is that person turning left? no street there? maybe they are just going around something on the right…” but that would be an exercise in logic, not part of the picture here. PS- I’m in New Jersey…


  11. david says:

    people are morons! i should know,i drive a school bus,plus i was hit head on by a tahoe drivng soccer mom talking on the be careful,and if all else fails,ride your mtb on the trails!

  12. Doug says:

    One thing I’ve leaded is to drive defensively.
    Consider all drivers do not see you. Watch out for women drivers on their cell phones! I wear a reflective vest and rely on my side mirror. Today I’ve ordered an air horn from Nashbar. It uses a bottle that you charge with your pump. This will be handy for those intersections. I should add the town I live in is not bike friendly as far as shoulders and the conditions of the streets. I leave early enough in the morning so there are few cars to worry about. Going home and daily runs to the stores are another story.

  13. Shark Bait says:

    Commuting on the narrow, torn-up, twisty and hilly roads of Pittsburgh is typically the high point of my day. There is no escaping the danger, but the suggestions above all help reduce the risk.

    Occasionally, someone will get out of their car and try to fight me because I yelled back at them. I find that funny. I’m way too tired to fight anyone, let alone someone who has been resting in an air conditioned or heated automobile. Personally, I think urban road rage could be eliminated if everyone commuted.

    Rule one of bicycling that we all learned as children is “get back on as quickly as possible.” Let your bones, muscles and soft tissue heal, but get back on and ride. Life’s too short to miss out on it.

  14. sasquatch says:

    on the steepest part of my commute home, about 4 miles from work, there’s this 5 year old kid on a BMX who always asks “wanna race?” Darn kids, no way I’m gonna race him!

    seriously tho, I’ve learned to expect stupidity (or at least inattentiveness) from drivers. I pay attention to who’s around me and the potential for disaster, I don’t rely on being in the right. That must be defensive driving 101…


  15. FrankieJ says:

    One thing that I would suggest is to do your best to make yourself as visible to traffic as possible. I commute to where I work fairly early in the morning and everyday I see some idiot riding against traffic with no lights on whatsoever.

    When people ride on the bike path, they are invisible to traffic. Being invisible to traffic also means being invisible to the law.

  16. Andrew says:

    “Watch out for women drivers on their cell phones…”

    Nice sexist comment there, Doug. Cycling is often a boys club in many locations–no need to offend the sisters.

  17. Becky says:

    I’m lucky that the road I commute on has a large breakdown lane, but I still keep an eye on the cars. It may take longer, but I tend to wait on the side of intersections to be sure all the right hand turners have passed me before I go. People are often too distracted during their drives home to trust them with your life.

  18. Doug says:

    Nice sexist comment there, Doug. Cycling is often a boys club in many locations-no need to offend the sisters.
    Maybe a boys club in some parts but not where I work. I’m the only guy that commuts where I work.
    I’ve not seen a bicycle rider talking on their cell phone yet but I watched a women answer her cell phone while riding by on her motorcycle. I knew it was a women because she was not wearing a helment.
    Not if it was true. Sit by a stop sign and see who is most often taking on their cell phone.
    Sorry if I offended you. Safe riding.

  19. red head says:

    I ride delivery for a sub shop and have to deal with police officers and motorists who have no clue. I used to ride on the offense, now I ride on the defense. I slow for intersections even if I have the right of way and have developed a good spidey sense in traffic. I also always keep my hands near the brakes and look around. I can’t tell you how many close calls I’ve had with motorists that are totally unaware of whats going on around them, both females AND males on cell phones and or just out to lunch. To be fair, I also know that there are motorists who DO pay attention and always get a thumbs up and a nod for waiting for me to clear an intersection or waiting when they had the right of way. but then there is the days I want to paint my middle finger orange….

  20. Stel says:

    We have to ride like this because our society doesn’t really take cycling seriously. We have increasingly serious issues with obesity, yet we would rather pay for treatment rather than prevention. Our economy is in tatters because of high energy costs and a pathological reliance on gasoline.

    I love cycling and ride as much as I can, but I stay away from high volume roads with poor shoulders. My strategy to avoid crazy drivers is avoidance. That means I have to take the car to work. I made this decision because if something happens to me, my family would be affected very significantly.

    If there was a safe way to commute from my home to work (approx 25 miles), I’d be on my bike in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, my community has not supported the development of sensible bike lanes or trails to make commuting possible for me.

    When are we going to get really serious about the important issues in our society?

  21. Shark Bait says:

    Great observation there Stel. I’ve come up with over 20 phenomenal reasons why it is better to bike to work than drive. There is only one negative, and you identified it.

    Not riding isn’t one my options. Bicycling is a passion. Like breathing. Can’t survive without it.

  22. Marcia says:

    “Bicycling is a passion. Like breathing. Can’t survive without it.”

    I’m with ya Sharky. I have a 40 mile round trip commute and I wouldn’t trade those hours and miles for the world. It is what helps keep me balanced physically and psychologically. People call me nuts, but I know it is one of the most sane things I do for myself. The down side is, come winter I have to use the stink’in car as we get ample snow in my region.

    I leave my house around 5:20am, so it’s obviously dark, but very little traffic. I always wear my flouresent reflective vest (day and night) and have front and rear flashers. Here in the Erie, PA area most drivers are courteous and give me room as they pass by. There are a few discourteous drivers, but realitively few. Truly I consider it a courtesy on our part when we take proactive measures to make ourselves as visible as possible, and I know drivers appreciate it. After all, I’m a driver as well, and I greatly appreciate cyclers and runner who take the initiative to make themselves visible.

    And drivers gabbing on their cell phones…lord yes, and I would say equally as many men as women. I was stopped at an intersection the other day, and as I was watching the left-turning traffic roll thorugh, 8 OUT OF THE 12 CARS HAD DRIVERS WITH THEIR CELL PHONES TO THEIR EAR! Please, please, please, people…just hang up and drive.

  23. Mac says:

    About a week ago I started feeling comfortable enough to ride in the street on sections where I usually stay on the sidewalk and move like a pedestrian. Wearing bright clothes on a sunny day I experienced every one of these issues in a five mile stretch. I’m really starting to wonder if people around here (Hampton Roads, VA) just hate people on bikes being on “their” roads.

  24. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by bikeambassadors: Article on ‘common driver mistakes’ is really useful approach to city riding (from @BikeShopGirlcom…

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