What kills the most cyclists in London?
The one single danger in London that causes the most cyclist fatalities is also fairly easy to avoid, namely being on the left of a left-turning vehicle, such as a bus or heavy goods vehicle. Be extremely careful around this type of vehicle!!! If you get sucked under a big vehicle, the chances of dying are very high. I believe that a disproportionate number of fatal incidents involve construction lorries.
I believe there are two main scenarios which can lead to danger when interacting with this type of vehicle. Of course there are others as well, but these in my experience are the most common:
Scenario 1 - the Undertaker
We've all seen this one, and perhaps even been tempted into it ourselves. Picture some traffic lights with a big vehicle stopped at them, and at least half a lane of empty space on the left hand side. It's so tempting to think you can dive into this space and then sit next to the cab of the big vehicle, waiting for the lights to change. DON'T DO THIS!!
Why? What could happen next is that the lights change to green, and you both pull off, but the truck makes a sharp left turn. The driver can't easily see you in his blind spot at the side of the cab, and probably has no idea you're there. The reason that he's so far over to the right is that he needs the extra space for his back wheels to make it round the turning. Remember that these vehicles are big, and require a substantial amount of room to manoeuvre.
How to avoid
There's nothing wrong with waiting behind a big vehicle like this at a junction. You'll lose hardly any journey time, and have a big boost in safety. I will quite often wait in the middle of the lane behind the first or second car in a queue of traffic at the traffic lights anyway, rather than pushing right through to the front. This is recommended practice in Cyclecraft, and in my experience is an excellent and safe way to cross a junction with minimal conflict and stress from motor vehicle drivers.
Be very careful of filtering up a queue on the left hand side of traffic (here in the UK where we drive on the left). Quite a few London bendy busses have a sign warning cyclists not to overtake on the left (well, undertaking). The pun in the word undertaking for that manoeuvre should be heeded. Elsewhere I've seen things like "Left side = suicide, right side = overtaking side". Unfortunately most cycle lanes encourage cyclists to ride in this position, which is one of many good reason not to use them.
I would personally do almost anything necessary to avoid being on the left hand side of a large vehicle in a danger situation like this. I pass these vehicles with great care, and then only when I'm certain I can make it in front of them before they will move off. If I'm not certain, then I'll wait behind them.
Overtaking, not undertaking
I tend to overtake or filter traffic queues on the right, not on the left. That may seem scary and intimidating, but it's often the safer place to overtake because it's where drivers expect to be overtaken. Overtaking on the right is good for several reasons beyond avoiding being on the left of a big vehicle. Undertaking/filtering on the left usually places you right in the passenger door zone, and it's quite common for a passenger to open their door without looking and jump out when the car is stopped at some traffic lights. You're also less likely to get squeezed to the kerb by someone pulling over. Lastly, you usually have slightly better visibility on the right, as another common issue to take care about is pedestrians walking around and through all the stopped traffic to cross the road.
Wait in Primary position
If you do make it to the front of a queue of traffic, then wait in the middle of your lane, not at the side. This will deter overtaking, and puts you right where drivers in vehicles behind you can see you. If a big vehicle is right behind you, then make sure you're well forwards so that it's easy for them to see you from the high cabin. Most of all, turn and look at them with a smile, anything to be sure that they've seen you, and have acknowledgement as another human being.
No-one wants to hold up faster motor vehicles, but sometimes it's appropriate to do so for your own safety.
Never rely on indicators
Drivers are human too, we forget to indicate, so all a flashing indicator can be counted on to tell you is that the light is working. It might have been left on from a previous turn, or there might be no indicator flashing and yet the driver intends to turn. Experience will help to tell you whether a vehicle is likely to turn, via other signs such as where the front wheels are pointing, the specific junction and road positioning of the vehicle (with the caveat of how large vehicles often need to move right before they turn left, for example), the driver's body language, etc.
Scenario 2 - the Left Hook
This is another common one, and is entirely down to bad driving. It's the left hook scenario, and this is exceptionally dangerous for cyclists. What happens is that you get overtaken by a big vehicle which then immediately turns left. It's most common from car drivers in my experience, but I've had a few lorries and busses do this to me as well because of Rule Number 1 (see bottom of this article).
How to avoid
Stay alert - look and listen
I often do a check over my shoulder when approaching a junction, as this gives me an idea if there's traffic that might want to turn left. Sometimes the look helps, and other times you can detect approaching trouble by their engine note. It's easy to hear an impatient driver who revs their engine, and you can sometimes also hear the evidence of someone slowing down to make the turn you're both approaching. Prepare to take avoiding action!
Don't cycle in the gutter
John Franklin discusses two main cycling positions in Cyclecraft, that of secondary (about 1m from the edge of the traffic flow) and primary, out in the middle of the lane. He also recommends that you take primary position through most junctions, owning your lane as though you were a car. This is an excellent way to discourage the left hook, as well as overtaking through the junction.
Just because there's a cycle lane on the left of the road, don't feel you have to use it! Sticking to the left hand edge of the road through a junction is one of the most dangerous places to be on the road, so stay in the middle of your lane and ignore any shouty car drivers who tell you to use the cycle lane or stay left.
Never rely on indicators
Just as with Scenario 1 - don't rely on indicators!
If you're already in the situation?
Both drawings courtesy of David Martin
What should you do if something goes wrong and you end up to the left of a truck? There are some exit strategies that may or may not be appropriate, depending on the exact circumstances:
It might be worth combining the above with a very loud shout or scream, on the slight chance a driver will hear you.
Remember that whilst one or more of the above exit strategies might work fine when a car does this to you, the size and noise of a large vehicle might render them all unworkable. Best of all, avoid the situation in the first place, as all of the above bail-out options have significant risk of injury or death attached to them.
Lorries and female cyclists
Much was made in the press recently of a study that claimed women cyclists are more likely to be killed in this manner, because they ride less assertively than men, and because they are less likely to jump red lights. I, and others, believe this to be incorrect in that the jumping of red lights is a red herring, the problem is actually about correct road positioning.
Rule Number 1
Many drivers seem to believe that they MUST overtake a cyclist, irrespective of things such as oncoming traffic, approaching a queue of traffic, approaching a junction, through a pinch point and dangerously close to the cyclist, etc. It's jokingly referred to by many cyclists as Rule Number One, usually with some amount of scorn for the particular driver being discussed. It's not really a rule of course, just an illogical impatience on the part of some drivers.
It's mostly pointless to overtake a cyclist in London, because according to TfL, the average speed of a car in central London is 9mph, whilst that of a bike is 12mph. Of course there are plenty of occasions where overtaking a cyclist is safe and appropriate, but those occasions are not the ones cyclists tend to notice!
Cyclecraft by John Franklin This is an excellent book which covers road craft in the UK from a cyclist's point of view.
David Martin's Theory of Big. Thanks to David for the lorry drawings above!
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