Friday, October 14, 2016

In Theory...



Having recently studied for the Irish Driving Theory test, I was impressed by how much of the material was devoted to dealing with cyclists. In fact, next to tractors, cyclists were probably the most frequently mentioned "other" in the questions involving other road users, outnumbering mentions of motorbikes, pedestrians, and horses. Every possible scenario involving an encounter with a cyclist was covered: from how to read hand signals and what sort of maneuvers to expect, to how to overtake a cyclist and what to do when passing is not safe ("be patient and wait; do not sound horn").

In theory, anyone who manages to pass the test should be well equipped to share the road with cyclists. In practice ...well, you know yourself.



Does the information fade over time, I wonder? I certainly notice again and again that the motorists who overtake me with the most care and give me the most space tend to be younger drivers, often sporting learner decals. Even a car replete with the sort of rowdy teenage boys whose look suggests trouble is likely to quiet down, then slow dramatically and give me a wide berth, before proceeding with their merriment once they overtake. In contrast, the drivers who tend to pass inches from my elbow without reducing speed tend to be older, "respectable looking" motorists.

Perhaps the learning does fade over time. Perhaps beginners are more careful. Or perhaps this is something that's only been added to driver's ed curricula more recently. I do not remember any cyclist-specific content in the Theory Test I took in the US 20 years ago, and I wonder whether that's changed now.

Regardless of what the reason is, my impression that a good portion of motorists today mean well, but genuinely do not know the rules when encountering a cyclist. Which, in Ireland, is especially odd considering how much attention is given to the issue at the driver's education phase.

One time, I met in the town the very group of boys who had passed me on the road earlier. They were now loitering beside a fish and chip shop, talking loudly, spitting on the pavement. When I approached they stopped spitting and said hello and complimented my bike. In turn I complimented their overtaking skills.

"Oh aye, that's how we're taught to do it."

They might spend their nights "diffing" recklessly. But they know how to pass a cyclist. As, in theory, should everyone who holds a valid driver's license.



30 comments:

  1. US driving test theory focuses on transporting beer bottles by car. Seriously, that's what we put focus on. No wonder no one knows how to drive safely.

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    1. Is the focus any different with bikes though? Most porteur rack makers advertise being able to carry a 6-pack. People must just really like beer!

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  2. Interesting observation. I've only taken a driving test a long time ago (20 odd years) in the UK (twice actually, car and motorbike) so I'm not really in a position to compare teaching on overtaking cyclists now and then, or even here and there. But I do remember one occasion in Poland when I passed two cars full of teenage lads parked up in the woods, on a forest road, smoking spliffs. Later they passed me on the road proper and they certainly made a model overtake, right over the other side. Well, two overtakes I suppose, cos two cars. In fact four, as I saw them again later!

    But driving instructors generally I find to be very bad in their passing of and treatment of both cyclists and pedestrians. I suppose this is because they spend all day driving, which means they know they can "get away with" things and that they are likely to be somewhat petrol-head in outlook even before they start teaching. I'm afraid they do sometimes impart this attitude to their pupils.

    On a tangent, it's interesting how similar the illustrations in that Irish highway code, or whatever it exactly is, look to their UK equivalent.

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  3. I was recently verbally abused by a middle aged driver at traffic lights who seemed to be very anti cyclist in his outlook . I was offered all sorts of advise as to where I could put my bike. Apparently he considered I had "cut him up" as we both approached a roundabout about 2 miles back. He was not at all complementary and used such terms as" you cyclists", some other words have been omitted, but he did qualify the term cyclists with a number of adjectives. The joke of it all was I was driving at the time with my bike secured to a rack on the back of my car. You just have to laugh.

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    1. Okay, the punchline of that story *was* funny. People are amazing.

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  4. In most American cities, bicycles seem to have targets painted on them. Riders are seen as a scourge, and not only are drivers not concerned with passing with care, but they often are outright hostile and malicious to riders. While my driver's education class was 26-ish years ago and I may be forgetting it, but I sure don't recall bikes on the road being given any mention.

    I wonder if that hostile attitude towards riders is common anywhere in Europe? In your writings, from time-to-time, you mention that you are kind of a "curiosity" in your area. Do you ever find yourself being harassed while out on your rides, or have any other kind of negative experiences?


    Wolf.

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    1. I feel obliged to offer a contrary view of American drivers' treatment of cyclists. I live in a medium-sized southwestern city -- Albuquerque, NM -- where I've cycled for 27 years, and while I've encountered the usual fools, on the whole drivers have been very accommodating, particularly in the new millennium. I've ridden in cities as diverse as Los Angeles and Karachi, and in my experience, American cities are far, far far better than some others.

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  5. Re. your photograph. Love the tyre marks on the road surface. Is this locals practicing safe overtaking or are you testing a new fat bike?

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    1. That's "diffing" my friend. Probably local pastime #1 for boys aged 17-20. It can leave pretty interesting marks. See also here.

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  6. I've been passed far too closely by car drivers of all ages, but as the years go by I'm noticing that motorcyclists always give me plenty of space. One day I was struggling up a long steep hill with a lorry coming down the hill towards me on the other side of the road. Behind the lorry there was a large gang of motorcyclists, they must have been itching to overtake the lorry but they all held back until I had gone by. They looked a right rough bunch, but their road manners were impeccable! Perhaps they recognised the vulnerability of a fellow 'two wheeler'. I really don't know, but I was very impressed.

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    1. Generally yes. Though once in the USA one of a group of bikers did deliberately leave the main lane and ride along the shoulder to buzz me. The benefit of using a mirror was I saw him coming and once he was committed to his line just moved from the centre of the 6 ft wide shoulder to the edge and turned it back into a safe pass.

      When I'm not touring most of my cycling is around Glasgow and I very rarely have any issues with overtaking. The only regular hassle I get from drivers is when I choose to to use a local cycle farcility when I get toots of horns and windows rolled down to allow shouts of "get in your lane"

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    2. I do not see many motorbikes in "the South" (well, Donegal). But in Northern Ireland they are plentiful and some of the most dangerous drivers I have ever encountered. The Northwest 200 seems to draw a lot of enthusiasts to the area and inspire dangerous behaviour, like traveling in excess of 100mph on narrow country roads without actually having the skills to control one's bike. I wonder whether it's the same on the Isle of Man.

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  7. This is terrific. I'll have to look to see what the test looks like here. Something tells me bikes are barely mentioned. :-/

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    1. Come to think of it, the Theory test in the US might differ from one state to another, so I wonder whether it depends on the state. I took mine in Rhode Island.

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    2. I think it does. I've taken two theory tests in two different states, and while in Pennsylvania I don't remember any mention of bikes, in Oregon there were quite a few. The cultural differences probably play a part- many people bike in Oregon for transportation and recreation, and while our bike lobby is not all-powerful, it certainly is a loud voice :) Although it's getting more popular in Pennsylvania's bigger cities, the state is definitely not known for its bike culture the way Oregon is.

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  8. I live in a state where large, loud diesel pickups are very popular. I've run across a few of these jerks, who illegally alter the emissions systems on their trucks in order to spew clouds of black smoke. Cyclists and Prius drivers are their favorite targets. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=absU9A6pkFM


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    1. I live in one of those states too. The young redneck lads with large pickups are the worst when it comes to passing close.

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    2. I live in a province w the same problem. Young pups in big pickups (which they likely don't need for work of any kind; just showing off) are a nuisance. I don't get honked at very often, but when I do, it is invariably this group, invariably travelling in a pack, and invariably hiding behind dark glasses.

      But they are merely rude. Oddly, the worst group for endangering cyclists, at least on my commute, is school bus drivers. Seemingly not taught to pull over to pass at all. Have to trundle down the middle of their lane, no matter that the cyclist is dealing w parked cars taking up space, or that there is no oncoming traffic for blocks. It's not always a problem, because some streets are nice and wide, or there don't happen to be any parked cars, but I'm not sure I have ever seen a school bus pull over into the other lane to pass me. I was whinging about this recently and my son laughed at me and said, what did I expect from a group whose only qualification for the job was to be unemployed? (That's not quite fair, but the pool does seem to be heavily weighted to retirees.)

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  9. Your experience is different than mine with regard to young drivers. I routinely cycle by five high schools on my longish commute and confront these energetic kids as they come and go on the two lane highway we share. I just hold my breath as they pass with no regard to my presence. You're fortunate.

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    1. I think it depends very heavily on the culture. I am indeed very fortunate to now live in a region where even the "bad" teenage boys are shockingly polite.

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  10. "They were now loitering beside a fish and chip shop, talking loudly, spitting on the pavement. When I approached they stopped spitting and said hello and complimented my bike..."

    I love this bit. Makes me want a more detailed description of the scene, perhaps expanded into a story.

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  11. My cycling is regularly quiet country lanes and urban and I think I fear bus drivers the most. I find car drivers are almost all of the time excellent, motorbikes - excellent, vans can be bad, but busses - on occasion - can be terrifying, one recently came so close I was afraid my flapping anorak could have caught on it. One big change I made a couple of years ago was to start riding further out into the road - say 2.5 to 3 feet - and I find this has made a massive difference in preventing drivers from squeezing past me with vehicles coming the other way, then when the road ahead is clear they see they can swing out well over the middle road line, thereby giving me far more space. It has made a colossal difference and I don't have nearly so much of a problem since I've ridden like this. I once had a car tailgate me and I gradually eased over nearer the gutter, then put my foot on the kerb, stopped and innocently fished in my pocket for something. Being as he was right on my tail he then had to change down to first to get out and right around me. Served him right, if he had kept well back he'd have had a much easier and less stressful encounter. I hope he noticed.

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  12. The most common overtaking accident is the one known to PI attorneys as 'the right hook'. I suppose that would be left hook in Ireland. The motor vehicle passes on the left and makes an immediate right hand turn. It is a very common accident and frequently produces injuries. It is basically not malicious, it is stupid. Once the motor vehicle passes you they see a clear road ahead. The cyclist is out of sight, out of mind. The motorist has no idea how fast the cyclist is moving. Who calculates vectors anyway?

    There are ways for the cyclist to defend against this accident. First, when a vehicle overtakes you and there is an intersection approaching expect the worst. Be ready. You don't have to slow down or do anything in particular, just be mindful. Second, if that vehicle makes the turn, make the turn with it. Bikes have a much tighter turning radius than cars. In theory it is always possible to turn with the car instead of running into it. The reason you can't accomplish the turn quick enough is lack of reaction time. Decide now, right now, what you are going to do when the occasion arises. Make that decision in advance and you likely do have enough reaction time. Even if you can't complete the turn, start the turn. Hitting the back of the car at a low angle and reduced forward speed is always better than running straight into it. Completing the turn while leaning against the car is not only possible, I have done it and have seen others do it more than once. I learned this maneuver at age 14 by watching a friend do it and have never forgotten. I've completed the sudden right turn without incident quite a few times.

    There is one way to drastically increase your chances of being caught and hurt by a right hook. Use a flashing taillight. It is physiologically impossible for any motorist to gauge the distance to a flashing light. If they don't know where you are they have no possibility of guessing your speed. In many lighting conditions, and especially if your light is weapons grade bright, you will look exactly like a stationary barricade rather than a moving cyclist. The motorist will also be prone to misjudging their accustomed turn and as a result make a very sharp tight turn. That flashing light puts the cyclist in danger. This is one of many reasons flashing lights on non-emergency vehicles are flat illegal in civilized countries. Be civil and civilized even when the law does not require it.

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  13. Oh wow, are the cyclists pictured with Carradice saddlebags?

    Also, how is it you got your drivers license 20 years ago, I recall reading you were around 30yo?

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    1. Did you read that 6 years ago, perhaps?

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    2. Indeed many of the cyclists in the illustrations have adorable saddlebags. Not sure they are Carradice though. Too colourful?

      When I started the blog I had just turned 30.
      But I'm not like, a character in a book you know. I age in real time : )

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  14. You really can't win with some drivers. Here's the proof:

    This weekend, I was riding with a friend on a local bike trail. At the end of the trail is a major intersection, where a lot of bikers have to use the crosswalk. Being the former NYC bike messenger that I am, as soon as the cars had the red light, I rode across...not waiting for the "Walk" light. The driver of a turning car, (who did not even have to slow down for me), screamed obscenities at me, and yelled that I should wait of the "Walk".

    Now my friend, who had already dismounted his bike, along with a few other bikers, waited for the "Walk". When they all started to cross, they were blocking another vehicle turning from the opposite direction as my loudmouth. This motorist started screaming a whole tirade of curses at my friend and the other walking bikers...just because the were walking in the crosswalk.

    It goes without saying that while I was in the wrong in the above scenario, and of course a biker walking his bike in a crosswalk with the light has the right of way, it was funny that the bikers doing what they were supposed to were subjected to by far the more vocal road rage.

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  15. An interesting point in NY City is that they just changed the law giving bikers in the bike lanes the right of way over turning vehicles ONLY if the bikers have the green light. This is designed to end the current "grey" area in the law. Overall, this bends the law to favor motorists.

    With the protected bike lanes in NY, when vehicles are turning across the bike lanes, and have a green light to turn, the bikes have a separate red signal. But many bikers do not stop.

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  16. Thank you for sharing your observation. Where I live, it seems to depend on the driver and other factors (are they considerate of other people who drive, if they have experience walking, running or cycling on the road, if they're having a bad day or not, if they're aware/oblivious/care or not) regardless of age or the vehicle they're driving. I've had drivers of big, lifted trucks give me the entire lane when over taking and others purposely smoke me out to be mean. I have had drivers pass with caution and others pass close enough to make me fear for my life. More often than not, the rudest are the old and grumpy but then 95% of the other drivers are courteous and give me room. I'd like to think that most people know not what they do when they overtake too close or turn right after overtaking...more than those who intend to do what they do with malice.

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  17. "my impression that a good portion of motorists today mean well, but genuinely do not know the rules when encountering a cyclist."

    You tend to think the best of people, don't you? Unfortunately my experience with motorists tells me otherwise.

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