Learning from a fatal accident
On 6/18/2017 7:51 PM, NFN Smith wrote:
A few weeks ago, there was a fatal accident -- two women and a large
truck. One had injuries (I think not serious), the other was killed. I
believe that both were members of a competitive club (and thus, had
plenty of road experience), and the woman who died left a husband and 4
This one hits really close to home for me, as the location is only a
couple of miles from my house, and an intersection that I pass through
frequently, both as a cyclist and a motorist. There's a memorial shrine
that has popped up there, and I see it every time I go through.
I don't know a lot about the details of the incident, but I'm hoping
that I can see a copy of the police report, when it's completed. The
one thing I know is the sick feeling I got, seeing a photo of the scene,
with the victim's bike crushed under the rear wheels of the truck.
What I *think* may have happened was that the truck was stopped at a red
light, and then the cyclists moving up on truck's right side. From
there, I'm guessing that the truck began a right turn (probably a green
light, but right on red isn't impossible), and because the cyclists were
in the truck's blind spot (and on the right side), the truck driver
never saw them. I don't know which side of the intersection this
happened in, but for at least one of the corners, the bike lane is
narrower than many, at least by comparison to other intersections in the
Since this happened, I'm finding that I'm paying a lot more attention to
similar situations when I ride. A number of years ago, I had a run-in
with a motor home that turned right in front of me, while I was
overtaking on the right. In that particular case, the altercation was
limited to me (scared) yelling at the driver, and getting a middle
finger salute in return.
Although I'm paying particular attention to trucks and other
high-profile vehicles, I'm realizing that when I'm overtaking a line of
vehicles stopped at an intersection, it's important to be paying
attention to all of them. Some may be signaling a turn, many don't, and
some may be cheating into the bike lane, especially if there's a
dedicated right turn lane, where the line of traffic is backed up well
before the right turn lane starts.
One thing that I'm finding is that in certain circumstances, if there's
a big backup of traffic (especially before the turn lane), it may
actually be preferable (and safer) to move out of the bike lane into the
next lane, where I'm situated to the left of the stopped cars (and going
faster), rather than getting myself pinned against the curb or shoulder
by nearly-stopped traffic. After I've passed the stopped traffic, I'll
move back over to the bike lane as soon as possible, usually after
passing through the intersection. Because there's several different
variants of the interaction of right turn lane and bicycle lane, there's
no universal formula for how to handle this -- each one must be
In any case, the emphasis is to assume that most motorists don't pay a
lot of attention to traffic on their right, especially if they're
preparing to make a right turn (even if there's a bike lane to the right
of the turn lane).
Those are called "right hook" fatalities (or left hook in places like
Britain and Australia). Some people call the space between the curb and
the side of the intersection's first motor vehicle the "coffin corner."
It's a very bad place to be.
A few years ago there was a sudden cluster of bicyclist deaths in
London. Lorries (trucks) were mostly to blame, most of the victims were
women, and most of them were in the coffin corner. (It's on the left in
And it's a definite problem with bike lanes that go all the way up to
the intersection along the curb. Less knowledgeable cyclists (i.e. most
of them) may feel somehow protected because of the paint stripe. Less
knowledgeable traffic facility designers may think the stripe will
protect you (especially if they paint the bike lane area green.) But
paint is no protection at all against a right turning vehicle, no matter
whether the light is red or green.
So yes, the area to the right of a motor vehicle that may turn right
should be avoided, whether moving or standing still. Don't let paint
think for you. Just take your place in the normal traffic lane.
- Frank Krygowski