A cycling tip that might save your life

An alarming story in yesterday’s Guardian claims that "between 1999 and 2004 (the period for which figures are available), 85%
of female cyclist fatalities in London involved a heavy goods vehicle (HGV)".

This news comes hot on the heels of two cycling fatalities in London this past week involving young, female cyclists.

The article does not claim to have any answers as to why women are the ones being killed in these accidents, other than to suggest that men ride more aggressively, so are less likely to get trapped on the inside of a HGV.

Personally, I’m not sure that riding aggressively is the answer. How about riding defensively instead?

I know that we cannot predict accidents, but you can help avoid them by not putting yourself in danger. Sidling up alongside a big vehicle, whether it be a truck, bus or van, in which the driver has limited visibility of what is sitting next to his left fender (or right fender if you are in the North America/Europe) isn’t exactly wise, is it?

Fortunately, I have very little exposure to HGVs on my normal commuter route, but on the odd occasion when I have seen them on the road I have made a point of not sitting alongside them, because I know the driver is not going to have a clue I am there. It’s better to either hang back and sit (a good distance) behind them, or get so far in front they cannot help but see you. If in any doubt, it’s always wise to make EYE CONTACT with the driver.

In fact, I think this is the quickest, easiest solution for preventing accidents with either car drivers or HGV drivers: all it takes is a look and a nod, and you know that your presence on the road has been noted. While I’m sure it would definitely help if HGV drivers were more conscious about the presence of cyclists on the road, us cyclists have to take some responsibility for our actions too.

It might sound silly, but staring into the eyes of someone behind the wheel of a vehicle might just save your life. It’s a pity that all those female cyclists killed in accidents involving HGVs in London didn’t make a point of doing this.

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6 thoughts on “A cycling tip that might save your life

  1. It’s a pity that all those female cyclists killed in accidents involving HGVs in London didn’t make a point of doing this.
    How do you know?

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  2. Surly Dave, you are completely right, I don’t know — it’s just a guess, but given that most of these accidents seem to have occurred because the driver wasn’t aware he/she was about to crunch a cyclist under his/her wheels I thought it was a reasonable one.

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  3. I’ve tried the eye-contact thing. It doesn’t work. Most drivers just take it as a sign that the cyclist has seen them and will automatically move aside — it therefore makes them less likely to slow down. Then there’s the whole issue of whether the driver even has the competence to stop — even if they intend to.
    These days I look for other signs — their lane positioning, the way they’re revving the engine at the intersection (if there is one), the speed with which they approach it. These tell me much more about the type of person I’m dealing with, including their skill level, than any other indicator.
    In fact, I’d go as far to suggest that looking for these other indications is the reason I’ve been able to survive well over 150,000km in a city that sees having the “world’s worst drivers” as something to boast about.
    Had I relied solely on eye contact, I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t be around to type this today.

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  4. Chris, obviously you need more than eye contact to survive, but I have found this very helpful personally since I started commuting. I’ve also found that deliberately turning your head and looking over your shoulder and eyeballing the drivers approaching from behind is a good way of letting them know you’re about to move into their lane. In most cases, the driver will back off and let you in. But obviously my experience will be different to yours — I know what Queensland drivers are like! 😉

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  5. Usually, more aggressive behavior results in more accidents, which is why males typically are injured at a higher rate than females (per hour of activity). But getting yourself on the inside of a lorry is asking for trouble, IMO.

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