Top Tips for Driving Safely Around Cyclists

We all want to be safe on the road – a place that can be particularly dangerous if people aren’t careful. These two statements hold equally true for both drivers and cyclists. There have been untold numbers of accidents when these two worlds collide, sometimes causing friction between the two communities. But this doesn’t need to be the case; the truth is that vans, cars, and bicycles share the road, and it’s important to know how to be safe. With this in mind, we thought it prudent to put together some tips for drivers, some advice and suggestions for how to drive safely around cyclists.

Use indicators in good time

Accidents usually occur when people aren’t doing what they are supposed to, one such instance can be in relation to indicators. Always use your indicators, as this not only helps other drivers but cyclists too. Cyclists won’t know your intended action if you don’t warn them, so give them and all others on the road the signals that they need to stay safe.

When turning and emerging from junctions look out for cyclists

When you’re in the process of performing any kind of turn, you must always be on the lookout for cyclists. Obviously these travellers don’t stick out as much as vehicles, and can often appear behind traffic or in your blind spot. So make sure to utilise your Ford van's mirrors before you start any such manoeuvre.

When emerging from junctions this can also be an issue. At times it’s incredibly difficult to see cyclists, and it’s not something everyone is thinking about with all the other things that are going on. So drivers should always be aware of the possibility of a cyclist appearing in and around junctions.

Give them space

cyclist in traffic

Giving a cyclist space is of vital importance, for both you and those on bikes. Duncan Dollimore from Cycling UK, a charity that helps people of all ages cycle safely, has offered some important advice for those driving around cyclists:

“The most important message for driving safely near cyclists is to give them space. If you haven’t cycled since you were a child it’s easy to forget that people on bikes sometimes have to manoeuvre to avoid potholes, move out to avoid parked cars, and change their position in the lane for a variety of reasons. You can’t just assume that they will, or that they should, stay a set distance parallel to the kerb.

“In fact, cyclists are advised to keep out of the gutter and ride further from the kerb than some might imagine. If you cycle inches from the kerb you can almost encourage drivers to overtake where there isn’t enough space to do so safely, which is why on narrow roads cyclists sometimes move towards the middle of the lane to remove that temptation for people to try and squeeze past too close.

“The Highway Code makes it clear that drivers should give cyclists as much room as they would a car when overtaking. The Code doesn’t set an exact distance, but a good rule of thumb is 1.5 metres dependant on speed. If you imagine what it’s like if you stand too close to the platform edge when a train passes through a station at speed, that’s how it can feel on a bicycle when a vehicle overtakes at 60mph plus without leaving plenty of room. Passing too close means you reduce the margin for error when anything unexpected occurs.”

Safety first and tips for driving near cycling groups

Driving near one cyclist and multiple cyclists is the same in principle, but there are certain measures that must be taken when around groups. Robin Farina from Revolution Coaching, who provide comprehensive training programs to cyclists, was available to offer some important tips and suggestions from her current location in Bermuda.

“I am very passionate about bicycling safety. As a coach and person that hosts many cycling camps around the world, my first piece of advice to all the groups I am cycling with is safety first.

“What that means is we assume vehicles are not going to perform the proper action when they approach cyclists on the road. Everywhere is different when it comes to the general awareness and attention given to the cyclist.

“For example, here in Bermuda, like most European countries, the roads are very narrow and curvy. It is hard for cars, pedestrians and cyclists to all exist on the road at the same time. 

cycling race

“My most important tips for vehicles when approaching cyclists are the following:

“1) Do not try to pass a cyclist or group of cyclists when there is an on-coming car. Wait until the on-coming car passes and it is clear to pass.

“2) Do not try to pass a cyclist or a group of cyclists in a blind turn, while approaching an uphill or while approaching a downhill. The only time to pass is when the road is clear in front of the cyclist and there is no on-coming car approaching.

“3) Do not try to speed up, pass cyclists and then slow down to make a turn left or right in front of them. Cyclists can travel at very fast speeds on downhills and flats. If you try to get around them to make an upcoming turn, there is a great chance a vehicle can cause them to crash into the car or get hit in a t-bone accident while the car is making the turn.

“4) Cyclists should not be spread all across the road. They should be either in a single file line or a double pace line. If a group of cyclists are taking up the whole road, typically it is because the road is a very dangerous place to pass. It is best to wait until the road opens up and you can see the optimal place to make a safe pass.

“5) Not only is it the responsibility of drivers to drive safe around cyclists, it is the responsibility of cyclists to be courteous to vehicles on the road. Allowing cars to pass when it is safe, is the proper action to take. As a driver if you feel like a cyclist or group of cyclists are endangering themselves or others by not obeying the rules of the road, my suggestion is to report the group to the local authorities instead of taking matters into your own hands.”

Give cyclists room and a head start at traffic lights

Sue, from the not-for-profit charitable organisation Simply Cycling – who have a focus on cyclists with a disability – was kindly on hand to offer us some important advice regarding traffic lights.

“We cycle out - mainly on minor roads, though crossing some major ones at traffic lights etc. - every Thursday, with several people who have learning disabilities and sometimes one or two with sensory or physical disabilities. This sometimes means we have to 'double up' at traffic lights to 'shadow' those who are less confident or sometimes unaware of the vagaries of other road users. 

“We would love drivers to leave the 'green cycle space' at the front of the queue for the cyclists it's intended for and give them a bit of a head start so they can thin back out into single file and allow traffic to flow freely.

“We as drivers often assume we own the roads and we are desperately trying to inform and teach our cyclists that they own the road too. They need to hold their line and not feel obliged - or forced - to move into the gutter. Drivers need to think - the grid cover might have been removed, the pot hole might be huge, a pedestrian with a small child or dog could easily step into their path etc. etc.”

Check for cyclists before opening doors

car door and bicycle

Many people, after they have finished parking their vehicle, don’t think twice before opening the roadside door, or at least are only on the lookout for other vehicles. This is incredibly dangerous, as cyclists can be harder to see and hear coming, and might just be passing by when you want to exit.

This was a point brought up to us by Chris Bennett, Head of Behaviour Change and Engagement at Sustrans, a walking and cycling charity.

“Both cyclists and drivers are just people trying to get from place A to B safely. Lots of people who cycle also drive, and vice versa – those who drive also cycle.

“Cyclists however are more vulnerable than car users - this means that drivers have a responsibility to be careful around them. Give plenty of space when passing a cyclist and be careful when parking and opening doors.”

This is indeed important to remember, so make sure to check for cyclists before opening doors, and perhaps get into the habit of opening the driver’s side door with your left hand (UK), forcing you to peer over your shoulder.

Look out for their signals

Chris also offered some further advice regarding cyclists and their signals.

“Cyclists will normally use their hands to signal that they are turning, but they also need their hands to brake and steer, so they won’t always be able to. We’d recommend getting out on a bike or taking some cycling training, such as Bikeability, to understand what it’s like to cycle.”

Looking out for the signals of cyclists can be tremendously helpful for those behind the wheel, and help to ensure the safety of all those involved.

Duncan, from Cycling UK, has also informed us of the importance of signalling and knowing what to look for.

“When we give advice to people about cycling in traffic, there are two communication issues we highlight. One is to make their intentions clear, so that they try to give other road users an indication of what they they’re going to do. The second concerns the benefits of trying to make eye contact with drivers at junctions, side roads and roundabouts, to check whether the driver has actually seen them.

“The reality of life however is that if you drive for long enough you will come across another person in a car who fails to signal or make their intentions clear, and at some point a cyclist who does likewise. They are more vulnerable however, because they’re not protected by a metal shell, which is why we ask drivers to give cyclists space and not drive too close.”     

For further tips regarding cyclist’s behaviour in traffic, take a look at this article by Cycling UK.

Don’t touch your phone

phone in car

We all know that under no circumstance should we be making phone calls or texting while behind the wheel. But to ensure our safety, and that of others (including cyclists), we should refrain from picking up or touching our phones at all. The slight distraction that this can cause is just not worth the risk to the lives and safety of others. When you’re driving, you need to have all your attention on the road, and this is never truer than when cyclists are involved.

Use the horn sparingly

When insulated inside our vehicles, blaring our horns can seem like a trivial matter with the sound muffled from the driver’s perspective. But imagine being a cyclist riding past at that moment. It can be awfully alarming and have the potential to cause all sorts of accidents. So try and refrain from using the horn except in emergencies. Don’t give into anger, be calm and think about if the horn is really necessary.