What Cyclists Need to Learn About Trucks

What Cyclists Need to Learn About Trucks

By Kirby Beck, PCI #002T/EMSCI #017T
Coon Rapids (MN) Police Department (retired)

Having been involved in bicycle safety education for over 30 years, I have seen most of the materials and programs out there for teaching both children and adults how to cycle safely.

Working now as a bike safety consultant looking at bike crash cases for attorneys, I’ve discovered a glaring hole in our traditional cyclist education programs.  I’ve worked on several cases in which cyclists were run down and killed by 18-wheel tractor-trailers that turned in front of them.  The cyclists didn’t know what to expect or how to deal with them.  It seems the problem may get worse with the increasing numbers of bike lanes and their (often false) promise of safety.

While dealing with trucks may seem easy enough for people used to functioning in traffic, when it comes to riding a bike, it really isn’t.  I’m aware of only one program, CyclingSavvy (the cyclist education program of the Florida Bicycle Association) that specifically addresses the dangers associated with cycling near large trucks.  IPMBA training doesn’t specifically cover it, and neither does the League training from which our program is largely derived.

Tractor-trailers may have blind spots that make it difficult for the driver to see cyclists near them.  In addition, 18-wheelers turn differently than other vehicles, especially while making right turns.  They often make a “buttonhook” turn wherein they drive past the lane into which they are turning, and then turn tightly and “buttonhook” to the right, back into their proper lane.  Such turns help them minimize the trailer’s off-tracking onto the curb on tight turns.  Cyclists might think they aren’t turning after all and begin to ride past them.

I will quote Keri Caffrey’s excellent piece from the CyclingSavvy website, which also features some good videos.

“Cyclists hit by turning trucks is a repeating news story which highlights the most serious deficiency in our system — education of cyclists. Sometimes these crashes are caused by the truck driver passing a cyclist prior to turning right, but very often they are caused by the cyclist passing the truck on the right.  In both cases, the cyclist has the power to avoid the crash.

Here’s how YOU can prevent this from happening to you:

Do not stop at an intersection on the right side of a truck.  If you have already stopped in a bike lane and a big rig pulls up next to you, don’t assume the driver has seen you.  Get off your bike and move it to safety (your life is worth the inconvenience).  It is better to stop in the middle of the general traffic lane if you arrive first.  (In many cases it is safer to stop in the line of traffic than to pass the queue.)

Do not linger next to a truck on any side, in any lane.  If you are riding near the same speed, slow down until you are behind the truck.  (This is taught to motorcyclists, but it applies to all vehicle drivers.)

If a truck passes you, slow down and let it get ahead of you ASAP.  If you are approaching an intersection, merge to the left and ride near the center line to avoid the moving blind spot.

If you are in a bike lane and passing stopped traffic, do not pass a truck unless you can be clear of it before approaching any intersections or driveways and before traffic begins moving again.  (This is a situation in which bike lanes offer a false sense of security that can get a cyclist killed.)

Or, just don’t pass a truck on the right at all. And be cautious when passing on the left, too.”

As Keri’s article notes, the biggest dangers occur when passing on the right side of a truck.  This is precisely where bike lanes are located.  Bike lanes too often make cyclists, especially the untrained or inexperienced, believe that they have safe passage; that they can pass traffic, even at intersections and driveways; and that motorists will stay out of their way.  They may also believe they can’t leave the bike lane. These beliefs can be a shortcut to the morgue or nursing home, particularly if it involves a truck.

The real danger happens once the cyclist is just past the apex of the corner – I will call this the point of no return.  Once inside this point of no return, the space will be quickly filled by the truck and trailer, leaving the cyclist with little time to react and nowhere to go.  If caught in this point of no return, the cyclist’s only option is ride as quickly as possible ahead of the truck and close to the curb.  You have literally a split second to make that decision, perform a perfect quick turn, and get out of there.  It’s not even a legitimate option!  Your best bet to save your life is to anticipate the danger, assume you are not seen, and then avoid it completely.

Those of you who regularly bike where there are bike lanes and large trucks need to share this information with your cycling friends and associates.  Those of you who are IPMBA Instructors need to add this to your discussions about riding in traffic.  While our goal is to teach people to cycle safely, predictably and comfortably in traffic, we also need to warn them about the direst of dangers, and 18-wheelers are right at the top of that list.

Watch the animation:  http://iamtraffic.org/resources/interactive-graphics/what-cyclists-need-to-know-about-trucks/

The full text of Keri’s article can be found at:  http://commuteorlando.com/wordpress/2008/11/30/what-cyclists-need-to-know-about-trucks/

Kirby is one of IPMBA’s founding members and an author of both the Complete Guide to Police Cycling and the Complete Guide to Public Safety Cycling.  He can be reached at kirbyp42@aol.com.

(c) 2012 IPMBA.  This article appeared in the Winter 2012 issue of IPMBA News

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  • Kirby Beck

    This is not in the IPMBA training materials, but it something every IPMBA Instructor needs to be aware of and teach when instructing students on vehicular cycling skills.

    09:50am, 11/25/2014

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