Put it away.

Don’t Drive Like a Dickweed: 10 Rules for All Drivers

It may very well be that writing a How Not To Kill Cyclists With Your Car article on a bike website won’t really reach the intended audience. But hey, the last time we used the word dickweed in a title the article blew up, so here’s hoping.

Me to drivers
Me, to drivers

Drivers need to learn how to behave around cyclists. And before you think I can’t possibly know how hard it is to drive a car with swarms of cyclists bobbing and weaving all around you, you should know that I own a car and I do drive it in the city (though not much these days). So here goes.

1. Give us three feet when passing

In many states, it’s the law. But beyond that, how accurate is your perception of the edges of your vehicle? Do you realize how much your side mirror sticks out? If you aim to give a cyclist three feet and we actually end up getting only two, that’s a lot better than you aiming to pass with only a foot to spare and you end up side-swiping us. A car passing too closely, even if it doesn’t hit a cyclist, is a terrifying and dangerous experience. Just give us more space.

Don't buzz cyclists - we could end up a lot worse than some spilled coffee.

You’re not Maverick, and buzzing the tower is a dick move.

But – oh noes! – what if there isn’t enough room to give a cyclist three feet of space when passing, because of oncoming traffic or because the cyclist has moved into the center of the lane? The answer to that brings us to tip number two.

2. That pedal? The one to the left of your gas pedal? It’s called a brake.

You are not guaranteed an inalienable right to drive at top speed at all times. Sometimes you have to slow down for things: other traffic, speed bumps or potholes, maybe a delivery truck blocking the road to back into an alley. Tough shit.

One of the times you might need to use your brake is when there is not enough room to safely pass a cyclist. Wait until there is – it’s that simple. (Please don’t tailgate us while you’re waiting – hang back a bit.) Another time is at intersections, even if you think you have the right of way. If for any reason a situation on the road feels dangerous, or your vision is slightly obstructed, or you’re not sure how another road user is going to behave, the solution is to slow down. Be patient.

3. Crosswalks and stop lines

Congrats for stopping at a red light or stop sign. Here’s a cookie. But please, please, stop behind the stop line or crosswalk. The stop lines are there for a reason – if you inch up as far as you can into the intersection, it obstructs everyone’s view, dangerously forces pedestrians into traffic, and also edges into the space where cyclists on the cross street are riding.

Here’s where we also talk about bike boxes. You may have seen them – those green boxes at intersections between the crosswalk and the stop line. I know it feels weird to stop so far back from the intersection, but please leave bike boxes clear. They are intended to give cyclists a place to wait for the light to turn green so they can move into the intersection safely and in full view of all the cars. Don’t worry – typically once the light turns, the cyclists will either get going and move over to the bike lane at the right, or turn left as traffic allows and you’ll be able to continue on your merry way.

Photo Credit: Gary Cziko

Don’t be this dickweed. Photo Credit: Gary Cziko

4. Look before you turn, or change lanes, or swerve

The scariest moments on a bike are when a car changes direction. There’s the Right Hook:

Ouch.

Ouch. Image credit: Bicycling.com

The Left Cross:

Also ouch.

Also ouch. Image credit: Bicycling.com

The I Can’t Possibly Be Expected to Wait for 10 Whole Seconds Behind this Left Turning Car So I’ll Swerve Around it at Full Speed Without Looking:

Car 2, don't you DARE zoom around the right of Car 1.

Car 2, don’t you DARE zoom around the right of Car 1. Image credit: drivinginstructorblog.com

Please, drivers: whether or not there is a bike lane, whether or not you remember seeing any cyclist on that road right then or ever in the history of time, look first. Use your mirrors, turn your head, check your blind spot.

5. That stick thing coming out of your steering column

You can use it to turn on blinking lights outside your car to inform the people around you what direction you intend to go. Cool, right? FUCKING USE IT. Preferably before you’ve already started the turn, and use it for changing lanes as well as changing direction.

6. Speeding gets you nowhere

The faster you are driving, the harder it is for you to react to things while you’re moving, and the longer it will take for your braking/evasive actions.

Additionally, there is a strong relationship between the severity of pedestrian injury and the speed of the motor vehicle in a collision.

Slow. Down.

Slow. Down. Image credit: CDOT

Speed limits in the city are generally around 25-30mph (lower in school/safety zones). Please, obey the speed limits.

Oh, and by the way? Mathematically, gains from speeding are minimal unless you’re on a long trip, and even those gains are virtually completely erased by traffic, lights, and real world driving situations. You zooming at 45mph between red lights gets you nowhere, makes you less able to respond to circumstances and road conditions, and turns your car into a death machine.

7. Stop honking

I guess, maybe, there are some rare emergency situations that make honking useful. But honestly, most drivers use their horn instead as an audible middle finger salute. When you’re on a bike, a honk is loud, obnoxious, and often startling. This is true no matter its intention – I’ve heard drivers claim they honk so we know they’re behind us. News flash, drivers: even the quietest hybrids make enough motor/road noise that we can hear you. Honking just serves to either scare the heck out of us or make us feel unwelcome.

8. Get off your damn phone

Oh my god, people. Get off your phone. Put it away – and I mean AWAY away, like in your pocket or briefcase or purse so you’re not tempted to pick it up just for a quick glance with every chime or whenever there’s a pause in traffic.

Put it away.

Put it away.

9. Parking or stopping in bike lanes

We love the ever-expanding network of bike lanes in the city. Unfortunately, lamentably few of them are fully protected or separated from the driving lanes. Apparently to drivers, this means it’s all fair game. I don’t care if you think It’s Not Illegal If the Blinkers Are On or But It’s Only For a Minute What’s the Big Deal?

The problem with parking or stopping, even for a moment, in a bike lane is that it forces any cyclists in the lane to go around you – meaning they have to merge with faster-moving traffic. Ever tried to merge onto a highway from the onramp in an underpowered car towing a u-haul trailer? Or stuck behind someone ahead of you going really slowly? Remember how dangerous it was to try to mix into traffic that’s going significantly faster than you are capable of going? That’s what you are forcing the cyclist to do so that you don’t have to find a parking spot while you run into the post office “real quick”.

Hate. So much hate.

Hate. So much hate. Photo credit: John Greenfield

10. Don’t door me, bro

While you’re parked, let’s talk about one of the most dangerous things that drivers AND passengers in a car can do to a cyclist – dooring. No matter what side you’re getting out of, no matter how quiet the street seems to be, no matter if there’s a bike lane and it seems like there’s plenty of room for a bike to go around you, look before you open your door, and don’t open it if there is a bike coming.

(Or a car for that matter. Even when I’m driving I have to admit I am flabbergasted at the number of people who just fling their doors open into any kind of traffic. It’s even in a car insurance commercial:

Like seriously. What the hell is wrong with you people? I feel like I learned not to do that in the first week of driver’s ed.)

Bonus tip: Be understanding

Listen, I’m not going to tell you that every cyclist is a letter-of-the-law-abiding angel. We’re not. I’m not. But neither is every driver. Try to understand that cyclists are trying to operate in an environment that, at best, treats them as an afterthought. The laws and the infrastructure that seem so obvious behind the wheel of a car suddenly don’t make as much sense when you’re on a bike. Also, consider whether your frustration is about safety, or merely your inconvenience, or possibly just a violation of your sense of fairness. It is possible to decide that, you know what, while it may not be technically fair if a cyclist slowly rolls through a stop sign at an empty intersection but you can’t/shouldn’t, it’s also not a big deal. Then look in that rear view mirror of yours and see if there are ways that you can improve the interactions you have with cyclists.

7 Comments

  • Nadarine August 21, 2014 at 11:39 pm

    OH MY GOD YES COSIGN TO ALL. (Especially since I just bitched about the TWENTY-ONE DRIVERS I saw swerving into the Milwaukee Ave bike lane in the course of ONE BLOCK because traffic was slow/stopped and they felt entitled to drive in the bike lane!)
    It’s such a simple thing, but after years of being both a driver and a cyclist, I know that being a driver had made me a better cyclist (I know how limited your vision can be in a car, and it helps me anticipate the behavior of drivers), and biking has made me one hell of a much better driver.

    Reply
  • ryan August 22, 2014 at 5:59 am

    Anti-dooring pro-tip: on the driver’s side, pull the handle with your right hand. It turns your body and encourages a good head check.

    Reply
  • John Greenfield August 26, 2014 at 3:07 pm

    Great article! How about a photo credit for the image of the car parked in the bike lane? Thanks!

    Reply
    • kaz August 26, 2014 at 4:53 pm

      My bad! I thought I put credits in the alt text for the images but I’ll move them to the captions. Sorry!

      Reply
  • Jeff Wegerson August 26, 2014 at 4:32 pm

    Very nice. I hardly ever bike so my advice for drivers is advice to myself as well.

    As a driver, that three extra seconds or ten or whatever you spend being nice to a biker, you often make up entirely by the time you catch the next car. A simple push on the gas and your life returns to where you left off.

    But for a biker, the same amount time lost to a car driver is also lost momentum that takes real work and effort and real time to make up. Or is not made up at all and is lost for forever. You get home or to work at the same time you would have. A biker is there a little later than they would have been.

    Reply
  • Jeff Schneider August 27, 2014 at 3:52 am

    All these points need to be covered in driver’s training. As someone who drives as well as rides a bike a lot, I see at least 8/10 of these points as being important for safety even when no cyclists are around. It all seems so common sense, and yet…so many drivers don’t have a clue. Well written!

    Reply
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