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If you ask any experienced cyclist about riding on roadways, he or she will say that you should always ride with the flow of traffic. It definitely is the safest place to be on the road; plus, it's the law. Many inexperienced cyclists and a large number of the motoring public don't realize this. Some cyclists have even been advised by officers of the law that they should ride "against traffic for their safety." But in actuality, we should ride our bicycles like we drive our vehicles...on the right side of the roadway. The rules of the road dictate that slower traffic should ride on the right side of the road except when passing slower vehicles or when making a left turn. Now that we've established that premise, still many experienced cyclists violate this rule simply by being careless and by doing so are building habit patterns that will eventually get them into a situation that could be hazardous. Good riding habits are imperative even when we're not required to ride a certain way. By always practicing good habit patterns, we may avoid situations that put us in danger when the unexpected happens.
Riding against traffic is the most common car/bike accident. And according to the League of American Bicyclists (LAB), it constitutes 14% of all car/bike collisions and is considered the fault of the cyclist. One more interesting sidelight is that over 42% of car/bike collisions are the fault of the cyclist to include turning left from the right side of the road, failing to yield from a driveway, and failure to stop at a traffic control device. These statistics indicate that decisions we make or actions we take on a bicycle have a lot to do with our own safety. So in my view, we should make the most of it. We can talk about these other situations in a later article, but for now let's concentrate on today's poor riding habit topic...riding against traffic.
One of the most common examples of riding against traffic is at intersections, especially out in the country. On just about any group ride (and many solo riders do it too), you will see someone approach an intersection and "cut the apex of a left turn." This is a habit to avoid...remember, just a minute ago you agreed that you should always ride "with the flow of traffic." In the following situations, there is a time at the apex of the turn when the cyclist is riding "against the flow." In all fairness to those who do it, they can usually see around the corner or they can see there is no traffic coming, but all the same, they are building habit patterns that someday will bite them when they aren't paying attention.
In the following examples, we assume that the lane the cyclist is turning from is a wide and is not a protected left turn lane. Case in point, the rider approaches an intersection, sees there is no traffic, and begins to drift into the oncoming lane anticipating a non-obstructed left turn. This is especially common when departing parking lots and on rural roads. As he nears the intersection, a car pops into view on the crossing road. If the rider is lucky, he may have enough time to stop before the intersection (he also agrees that a cyclist should always stop at stop signs), but he is on the wrong side of the road. The car doesn't turn...he was lucky. But what if the car turned? Now what could happen? Or, what if a car came from the right and turned left toward him while he was focusing his attention on traffic to his left? This cyclist would be in danger from a car coming from either direction. If this cyclist were driving his car would he put his car in this position at an intersection? I think not.
The second scenario is when a cyclist approaches a left turn and cuts the apex as he rounds the turn. This puts him in the wrong lane as the rider rounds the corner and in harms way if something is approaching. In this example there isn't anything coming...the rider is not in danger. But by developing this as his normal habit pattern for rounding a left turn, someday there will be something he didn't see. Then we have a different outcome.
The bottom line is that we need to develop good riding habits to keep us out of trouble when we go on automatic. The LAB teaches that cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles. I think that most of us would agree that we wouldn't drive our vehicles like the above examples, so why do we ride our bikes that way? Develop good riding habits when we are thinking about it and it will gain respect from automobile drivers and serve us well when the unexpected arises. Happy cycling!
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