Cycling Street Smarts, left-hand drive version



Let's face it - some traffic situations go beyond the normal rules. When the traffic system begins to break down because of overcrowding, poor planning and disrespect for the law, you may have to "bushwhack" your way through the mess.

You can emerge safe and maintain the respect of other road users if you're careful. Here are some situations where you have to take the initiative.


Always stop and wait for red lights. You not only ensure your safety, but you also increase respect for cyclists as law-abiding road users.

But some traffic lights don't turn green until they receive a signal from a metal detector buried under the surface. You must ride over the detector for it to work; occasionally, one will not. This is more of a problem in some countries than others.

You can recognise the detector by a rectangular or octagonal pattern of thin lines on the surface, where slots were cut for the detecting wires. The detector is most sensitive if you stop along one of the wires – the middle wire, if there are three parallel wires lengthwise in a lane. Sometimes,the street has been re paved since they were installed, though a marking on the surface may show where to stop. In an increasing number of places, particularly on cycle facilities, radar detection techniques are being used with post-mounted detectors.

If your bicycle doesn't trip the detector, you have to wait for a car to do it, or carefully go through the red light. You couldn't reasonably be held at fault for this, because the light is defective.

To promote better conditions for cycling, alert your government officials about road conditions of any type that are unsafe for cycling. Let them know that they are responsible to make the roadways safe for all types of vehicles, and that accommodation of bicycles is important to you. Getting involved at the local level can be very effective.


Traffic jams don't have to stop you - that's one of the biggest advantages of cycling in the city. But in the tight quarters of a traffic jam, take extra care. Stopped cars in a traffic jam present the same hazards as parked cars: blind spots, suddenly opened doors, and unpredictable starts and turns.

If there is an open passing lane, use it rather than threading between cars. If the street is completely congested, pick your way forward slowly with your hands on the brake levers. Remember, any car door could open!

If you're in a traffic jam, you can be fairly sure that the cars will not move, since they have nowhere to go. But if there's an open driveway or parking space into which a car could turn, you have to assume that it will. Look to see whether the car's front wheels are turned. Move away from the side of the car as you pass, and try to get the driver's attention as you approach the front of the car.

When cars are stopped, but not completely bumper to bumper, be very wary of cars cutting across in the gaps. Stop and look before you move out into a gap. Be especially careful if the vehicle you’re passing, like many vans, doesn't have a hood you can see over. Even when spaces between vehicles are tight, a jaywalker could suddenly appear in front of you.

Don't pass a long heavy goods vehicle or bus in a traffic jam unless there's a full, open lane next to it. Keep your distance. If you ride close to the side of such a vehicle it may begin to merge toward you, leaving you no way to escape.

As you approach a junction, change lanes to the same position as you would in normal traffic. Before you cross in front of a car to change lanes, make eye contact with the driver even if the car is stopped. When you reach a junction, wait behind the first car at the traffic light. Don't move up next to the first car. Drivers don't always use their turn signals, so you don't know for sure which way the car will turn when the light turns green.

These traffic-jam tactics are reasonably safe. In the UK, it is legal to ride between lanes of traffic or to overtake on either side as long as you don't have to cross a solid white line. You may cross broken lines. In some countries, it is not legal for a cyclist to pass on the left (the right, in countries where traffic keeps right) or ride between lanes of traffic. On the other hand, it's usually legal for you, or any driver, cautiously to disobey normal traffic rules when the road is obstructed.


A cycle path can sometimes provide a useful shortcut, and it can be pleasant and scenic. Use it with caution. Even if you are supposed to have the right of way, the path may be too narrow for safe manoeuvring. Pedestrians are unpredictable, and junctions are often hazardous. A path can get crowded with inline skaters, dog walkers and careless, inexperienced cyclists. Most bike paths are no place for a fast ride or high-speed commuting trip.

Many people consider pavements a safe place to ride because cars don't travel on them. Unfortunately, pavements aren't safe. Stay off them, except where you have no choice.

Trees, hedges, parked cars, buildings and doorways create blind spots along a pavement, which is too narrow to allow you to swerve out of the way if someone appears. A pedestrian on the pavement can sidestep suddenly, or a small child can run out from behind an adult. Never pass a pedestrian until you have his or her attention. Similar cautions apply to multi-use paths when they are located like pavements and when they are heavily-used.

And cars do use pavements - at every driveway and cross street. Since there are no clear rules for travel on a pavement, your only choice is to ride very slowly and look in all directions before crossing a driveway or street.


On your bicycle, you can see over most cars. You'll become used to this advantage. Don't let it fool you, though. You can't see over a large van, lorry or bus. Moving blind spots lurk behind these tall vehicles.

Suppose that you're riding on a two-way, four-lane street. You've merged to the inside lane, because you want to turn right. You signal your right turn and continue to move forward. You see only one other vehicle on the street: a van, coming toward you in the opposite passing lane. It stops to let you turn right. Can you make your turn safely?

The moving blindspot (5.5 kB gif)

The moving blind spot: Motorist (a) has stopped as a favour to the cyclist who is turning right. The cyclist and motorist (b) have both seen the entire road at one time or another, but they have never seen each other.

No! Since you are moving forward, a blind spot behind the van is moving toward you. A car could be passing the van in the outside lane, and you would never see that car. If you were to cross in front of the van, you could be met with a terrible surprise.


People will often tell you to "ride as if you were invisible." That advice only makes sense where you're actually hidden by a blind spot. To ride all the time as if you were invisible, you would have to pull off the road whenever a car approaches from behind. You would also have to stop and wait until traffic clears before crossing any junction.

Instead, ride to make sure you're visible. Wear bright-coloured clothes day and night, and use lights and reflectors at night. Ride in the correct lane position where you can be seen. Also, test to make sure that drivers have seen you. This is the safest way to ride.


How do you test that a driver has seen you? Here's an example. Suppose that you are on a main street, riding toward a junction. A car is approaching from the left in the cross street, where there's a stop sign. How do you handle this situation?

As you approach the junction, look into the car window and make eye contact with the driver to ascertain that the driver has seen you. Watch for the car to slow down more than it would if you weren't there.

If you look into the driver's window and the driver isn't looking at you, then be very cautious. Even if the car is stopped at the stop sign, a driver who doesn't know you're there has no reason to stay stopped. Slow down, and call out to get the driver's attention. Proceed only when you're sure that the driver is waiting for you.


Avoiding a driver who inches out from a stop sign (4 kB gif)

To avoid a vehicle inching out from a stop sign, check behind you for traffic,merge out to draw the driver's attention and keep pedaling unless you reach the point where you have to brake or turn out of the way.

Avoiding a driver who makes a left turn in front of you (4 kB gif)

To avoid a driver threatening to turn right from ahead of you, merge into your lane to make yourself more visible, then left to prepare your escape if necessary.


Sometimes a driver may not notice you as you approach a junction or driveway. This problem is especially likely to occur when the driver is backing out of a parking spot of driveway, or when the driver's view of the road is obstructed by a wall, vegetation or parked vehicles; or the driver may be looking in another direction.

If you are required to yield right of way, then of course, do; but if the driver has a stop sign, or is exiting a driveway, then you should not have to stop and wait.

With a little experience, and after learning the emergency braking techniques in this booklet, you'll have a good idea of your bike's stopping distance in any situation.

If necessary, merge into a position on the roadway which will make it easier to avoid a collision. Draw the driver's attention if you can, with your voice or a horn (but this requires aloud horn -- most voices are louder. Continue to move forward - and keep pedaling, since your turning pedals are a clear signal to the driver. Meanwhile, figure out when you'll have brake, in case the driver pulls out in front of you anyway.

In 999 cases out of 1000, the driver will stop and wait for you before you have to brake. Move on past the car. In the odd case that the driver doesn't stop, you'll be prepared to brake in time.

The real danger at junctions is from drivers who run stop signs or red lights without even slowing down, or who stop and then start again without looking. These drivers are rare, but be alert for them and practise your emergency manoeuvres.


If a motorist inadvertently or maliciously causes you to feel threatened or attempts to harm you, make note of the registration number and, if possible, a description of the driver. you can report the incident to the police. In the U.K, there's also a Cyclists' Touring Club Web site, for the purpose. If the offender is a commercial driver, inform the driver's employer. You may be able to report the driver's employer to the police.


After any fall or crash, seek appropriate medical attention, and before your next ride, have a qualified mechanic check that your bicycle is in safe working order.

Most cycling crashes don't involve other people, and can be prevented by good bicycle handling techniques. These crashes typically result from the cyclist's losing control on a bad surface or hitting a fixed object (see Moritz, William, Adult Bicyclists in the United States - Characteristics and Riding Experience, But if you are in a crash involving another person, first get appropriate medical attention for all parties. Gather as much information at the scene as possible including the other parties' names, addresses and insurance information.

Be wary - many people including police officers and insurance officials do not understand cyclists' rights to the road and this may cause them to have a bias against you. For this reason, do not apologise or say anything that could be interpreted as an admission of fault and do not say that you are not hurt - you may not realise that you are injured or that your bicycle or other property is damaged until later. If the investigating officer takes a driver's version of what happened and it differs from yours, politely insist that the police officer also record your version. Write out your own statement of exactly what happened as soon as possible after a crash. This often has greater influence in court than police and defence statements that are typically made days, weeks or months later.

Seek the advice of an attorney, especially if there is any dispute as to who was at fault.


The main way cyclists annoy motorists is by performing unpredictable manoeuvres this booklet warns against.

Certainly, children shouldn't ride bicycles in heavy traffic, any more than they should drive cars. But that doesn't mean that adult cyclists should have to ride like children.

Position yourself to encourage drivers to manoeuvre around you correctly. If most cyclists in your community use incorrect manoeuvres, drivers will have some trouble understanding your correct manoeuvres. You need to make especially clear signals. With experience, drivers will discover that they have an easier time with cyclists who use correct manoeuvres.

The number of adult cyclists is increasing, and in the long run, more drivers will come to understand that it makes sense to share the road. Cycles use less road space than cars; every person who chooses to cycle rather than drive is reducing traffic problems.


Your awareness of tough situations will help you anticipate and avoid problems and deal with problems that are unavoidable. Be courteous and respectful to other road users to avoid friction, but firmly assert your legal right to ride in the manner that is safe. Always be prepared to use your emergency manoeuvres.