Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Threat Level: Sunny

Recent reports of cycling accidents remind us that autumn brings low sun angles and greater glare to make good drivers untrustworthy and bad drivers worse.

I can't say for sure whether glare really played a role in an accident reported by a cycling blogger in Halifax, Nova Scotia, but the driver said it did, and it may actually have. Likewise I do not know whether it was a factor in a more recent accident causing life-threatening injuries to a cyclist in Massachusetts. That rider is still in a medically-induced coma.

Usually when a cyclist gets hit really hard, it is because the driver pulled a full-speed maneuver without seeing him, or was gunning for him. Wishing to assume better motives for people, what might make a driver aim for a cyclist as if the cyclist was not there?

Consider the less obvious factors when scanning for dangers as you ride. A driver with the sun behind them may still be blinded by glare reflected from the rear-view mirrors or from some other object. A cyclist is small and often has to operate outside the tunnel-vision field that a rushing motorist sees. Shine a bright light in that motorist's eyes and the situation just got even worse.

Cyclists are not usually hit by cars overtaking. The nastiest accidents happen when a motor vehicle turns across the path of the cyclist. Vehicles approaching from the opposite direction present the greatest threat because they may believe they can easily beat the cyclist, and they probably want to get across the oncoming lane as quickly as possible anyway. Motorists typically underestimate the speed of a cyclist. If for any reason they don't even see the rider, they can turn at the worst possible time.

A comment on the Halifax blog mentioned that "drivers all seemed to be in a hurry that day." That brings up The Autumn Madness. As summer turns to fall, the motoring public does seem to get a little pushy and aggressive. Maybe the diminishing light stimulates a sense of urgency similar to what makes the squirrels scurry so furiously in search of nuts and seeds to stuff into hollow trees and bury in caches against future cold and desolation. Whatever the reason, it makes motorists impatient. Cyclists are the losers.

We deal with enough at the best of times to maintain our claim to a little strip of the roadway. Make the extra effort to be more vigilant now. Drivers won't do it for you. Most of them think they'd prefer it if you weren't there at all. They can't imagine each cyclist as another motorist, clogging the lanes and competing for parking spaces. If they see us at all, it is only as something in their way.


steve said...

Road collisions as a whole are up 50% in Halifax over last year. Something has gone fairly decisively wrong on the roads around here, but I'm really not sure quite what it is. My gut feeling is there's just too many cars on the road.

cafiend said...

People keep making more people who grow up to be drivers. It's happening herre in my rural area as well. The lakeside town can be downright urban, though in a compact space. And summer traffic around the big lake is murderous.