Since I spend a lot of time riding my bike on local roads, and since there are lots of bad drivers, here are a few thoughts on safe driving.
I'm always amazed at how many drivers make dangerous passes. They'll do this even with an open lane or with a stop signal ahead. This doesn't give them any benefit—other than feeling of passing one more person and wasting a little more gas—and it is dangerous for everyone else on the road. Here I'll explain the safe pass and several types of dangerous passes.
Notice the steps of the pass:
- Begin to move over well behind the cyclist.
- Pass at a safe distance. There is a minimum of three feet between the closest points of the car and the bicyclist. Don't forget to give room for your mirrors, dual rear wheels, and trailer. On fast roads with large vehicles, the minimum safe distance may be larger.
- Move back into the lane well after the cyclist.
A common type of dangerous pass is to wait until the last moment to move over, risking clipping the rear wheel of the cyclist. This is particularly dangerous on city roads with debris and on rough country roads. If a road obstacle causes the cyclist to loose control of the bike, there is no reaction space for the driver to avoid running over the cyclist. Remember to get over early enough; the proper distance depends on the speed of traffic, including the speed of the cyclist.
Another type of dangerous pass in to cut into the cyclist's lane as soon as possible after passing, risking clipping the front wheel of the cyclist. Remember to get over late enough, with a safe distance between the car and bicycle. The proper distance depends on the speed of traffic, including the speed of the cyclist. It is important to consider both current speed and speed in the near future. If there is a traffic signal, stop sign, or slow car ahead, it may be better to wait a few seconds before passing.
The most common scenario for this type of dangerous pass is when coming up on a stoplight, or even stop sign. The light changes early enough that the driver must stop at the intersection, but decides to pass me before the light. The driver speeds around me, cuts in front, then slams on their brakes to avoid rear-ending the cars that are already stopped at the light. Because of the late pass, I have to quickly brake to avoid hitting this now stopped car. When the light turns green, I have to wait for the driver to start. Since cyclists can go from a stop to crossing an intersection faster than most cars, this type of pass doesn't help the driver get where they are going any faster. All it does is use extra gas, put extra wear on their brakes, and endanger the cyclist's life.
This type of dangerous pass includes the mistakes of the previous two, as well as providing even less space between the car and cyclist. The driver waits too long to get over, does not leave enough space, then cuts in early. This type of pass is distressingly common, even when there is an entire empty lane available.
School bus drivers commonly make this life-threatening pass. There have been times when I had to duck to avoid being hit in the head by the mirrors on the bus.
For lack of a better term, I'll call this the ‘Indiana pass’, since it is common on Indiana's country roads, even though there is no reason for it. It consists of:
- A dangerously late and close pass with partial lane change,
- followed by completely changing lanes, well after the cyclist.
This is just as dangerous as a close late pass.
The common scenario for this type of pass is that I can clearly see the road a mile ahead, and the only other person within a mile is the driver who makes an unsafe pass. The driver nearly clips me, often forgetting how much wider their trailer is than their truck, then continues driving in the oncoming lane for up to a quarter mile before returning to the right lane.
The unsafe passes don't save the driver any time, and endanger the life of the cyclist. You'll get where you are going just as quickly with safe passing, and will avoid killing anyone. Fortunately, many more enlightened states have a three-foot passing law. Unfortunately it isn't enforced well.
Learn to drive a motorcycle
Learning to drive a motorcycle will make you a much better car driver. Learning to drive doesn't mean hopping on a friend's bike and driving it around a parking lot, it means taking a motorcycle safety class from an organization such as MSF. If you can't take the class, you should at least read Proficient Motorcycling, which covers the same material. Either one will help you become a better driver.