Defensive cycling

Cyclists wearing a bright orange jacket reflected in a car's side mirror

Aware: both cyclists and motorists need to be aware of each other on the road. Photo Christian Barkla

I attended a defensive driving course, that affirmed many aspects of the need for cycling safety on the road, that this column has advocated for the past four and a half years. There is a shared responsibility of all road users to respect each other’s space and time in obeying the road rules. When looking at road safety statistic it is quite evident there are many varying factors in the cause of accidents, and from past experience cyclists involved in accidents often don’t get reported.

To be a defensive shared road user requires a conscience decision to change existing behaviour.  While not easy, change can be achieved with the right motivation, attitude, combined with increased awareness and skill development. In any change process there needs to acknowledgement of the risk factors that can place us on a collision course at sometime in the future. Thinking about how our own behaviour can impact others is the start of self awareness. Some might say it is gaining a better balance of our rights and responsibilities as a shared road user.

Not all motorists are cyclist savvy and can be quite nervous around cyclists while others can be at the complete other end of the spectrum and are quite blasé and give very little thought to cyclists, expecting the cyclists to take the appropriate care and actions to be safe around them.  As cyclists being in the right is not much help when we have a fall, which quite often happens when taking evasive action to avoid an accident and are incapacitated.

Where we look and what we focus on may well indicate where we ride at times has a high risk that does require a change of behaviour and attitude. Speed combined with limiting space can be intimidating for both cyclists and motorist alike.  Hazard detection and prevention are two corner stone’s of defensive driving skills and require two others actions in making these proactive behaviours. Looking up and scanning the road ahead is very important. Cyclist have an increased risk in road use in identifying and avoiding hazards that motor vehicle would drive through, cyclists may need to change their position on the road with little notice.Where bike lanes line are also the border of a car park this can be quite dangerous when passing parked cars. A door opening can well project into the cycling space either causing the cyclist to take evasive action out of the cycling lane into the line of the traffic or impact the door.

Another component of defensive driving is adjusting the speed to allow for safer stopping distance if and when defensive actions are required. This is a big part of our thinking requiring adjustment if we have the perception of time having to be lived to the limit that a minute can’t be spared to be courteous as well as respectful of other road users. As cyclists we quite often reduce our own space on the road by filling gaps close to motorist at intersections while waiting for lights to change when passing on the left devaluing the Amy Gillett cycling catch phrase “a metre matters”.  The reality is we can wait a moment and allow cars to traverse through an intersection without having to wrestle for space and time. These behaviours are risk taking and intimidating at times to say the least if no dedicated space for cyclists exists, like wise if cyclists are first into the intersection or roundabout motorists giving the same due courtesy of time and space is appreciated.

Our behaviours are quite often determined by our attitude.  Attitude affects our awareness and assessment of what is a genuine risk for all parties. Heighten awareness can be beneficial in improving skills through education and insight to what the major contributors of accidents stem from and where we may have deficiencies or blind spots. While it is difficult to make an assessment of what attitude a driver or cyclist may have had at the time of an accident being prepared to make a self assessment of our own behaviours and response to other shared road users is a good place to start.  Simply what tick you off or presses your buttons can be the first self awareness test and the best place to start the means of change in becoming a proactive defensive shared road user. Do unto others as you would have them do to you.

Looking forward to seeing you on the road soon God willing


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: