Monday, August 17, 2009

Bicyclists Are Invisible To Drivers

You are invisible. Sorry to break it to you, but it is the truth. It does not matter what you ride, whether it is a decked out Cervelo, a fluorescent fixie or something that looks like a parade float. You are invisible to motorists. Not long ago, I represented the family of a man who was hit and killed by a motorist in Mattoon, Illinois. At the time of the collision, the man was riding his bicycle slowly and carefully across an intersection with the light in his favor. The bike was of the cruiser variety, was bright orange in color and had a big orange basket on the front. He was legally riding within a crosswalk in the middle of the day. (Doing so may not be legal every where, but it was in Mattoon.) The driver that struck him was making a left turn and did not see him until, tragically, the man's head shattered her windshield. He died a few hours later.

This unlucky bicyclist could not have made himself much more visible to drivers had he worn antlers on his head and a flashing sign that said, "Don't Hit Me!" The driver, whom we sued, testified in her deposition that she felt that her minivan's internal roof support beam obscured her vision of the cyclist. This was an awfully lame excuse. If she could not see adequately in the direction of her turn she should have slowed down, stopped, craned her neck or have done whatever else it took to proceed with full view of what was in her vehicle's path. The point, however, is that motorists often just do not see people on bikes. You should always ride as if you are invisible. Assume that motorists will not see you and try not to let accident avoidance be dependent upon your being noticed by drivers. Here is how:
  • Ride with front and rear lights at night. This is a no-brainer. Lights at night (red in the back and white or yellow in the front) will announce your presence in the clearest possible manner. In Illinois, riding with a light also happens to be the law.
  • Pick a route with wide streets and less traffic. Bike riding in the city is about fun, physical fitness and reducing your carbon footprint. It is not so much about getting somewhere fast. Take the longer, safer route where there are fewer cars and more room to ride outside the flow of traffic.
  • Don't do weird stuff. Motorists will anticipate your presence more in some places than in others. They will anticipate your presence less, and will be slow to notice you, if you are riding against the flow of traffic, zipping through a parking lot, riding in the middle of the road following a sharp curve, or coming off of a side walk. Be predictable, and be safe.

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