Drivers’ passengers and cyclists

At the start of May I used up one of my cycling lives when a car turned into me sending me crashing painfully to the cobbled street. It left me shaken, and sufficiently stirred to put my thoughts to – er – blog post. In fact, this was actually the second time this year that reckless driving had resulted in my hitting the deck. February 13th (my birthday, as it happens) a startlingly impatient woman overtook me immediately before a roundabout, then slammed on her brakes – upon seeing a car approaching from the right – veering towards the curb and shutting down all the available road in doing so. On this occasion I faired slightly better: minor bike damage, a bruised arm and a knock on the knee.

Just to complete the hat-trick of  motor vehicle induced falls, last night a pleasant evening ride was brought to an abrupt end in Muswell Hill. I was approaching the roundabout – maybe 200m away – and traffic was moving slowly. I opted to carefully filter on the pavement side between park cars and the queue itself. To pass on the right of the queue would have necessitated crossing onto the wrong side of the road – clearly not an option. As I passed a black Jaguar the rear passenger door burst open into my path: front wheel, chin, shoulder hit the door, leaving me on the tarmac split seconds later. Fortunately the bike was fine; my shoulder is quite painful today, my neck aches and my chin is swollen – fingers crossed a day or two of rest will fix me.

What p*ssed me off was the argument from the driver – thinly veiled in superficial concern for my well-being – that it was my fault for passing on the left of the car. I stood my ground: 1/ I was riding carefully; 2/ the door should not have been opened as they weren’t parked and were in fact in moving traffic; 3/ the passenger did not check behind the car first; 4/ I had to pass on the left for the above reason.

But I was not actually sure whether her assertion that I should be passing on the right was true or not; I took my cycling proficiency in around 1986 so couldn’t quite recall my precise legal standing!

So where do we stand then?

A bicycle is a road-going vehicle within the terms of road regulations and as such is bound by the majority of rules that apply to motor vehicles. There are certain rules which specifically apply to ‘motor’ vehicles – oddly, not using a mobile phone, for one.

The area in this case is ‘Lane Splitting’ (under- or over-taking in a stream of traffic). It’s not a name I’ve actually heard of before and is illegal for cyclists – apparently – in some US States. But in the UK it is perfectly within the rules (for two-wheeled vehicles). I passed my full motorbike license test in 2008 and – once qualified – filtering through slow or stationary traffic is even considered a key advanced motorcyclist skill; safely doing so is clearly imperative, given drivers’ propensity to quickly change lanes in such circumstances and you could be obscured in their blind spot at any time.

I’ve read that there was some uncertainty, in old Highway Code, as to whether cyclists practising Lane Splitting could be prosecuted. Rules 129 and 139 stated that “you should…not change lanes to the left to overtake” and “you should…only overtake on the left if the vehicle in front is signalling to turn right, and there is room to do so…stay in your lane if traffic is moving slowly in queues. If the queue on your right is moving more slowly than you are, you may pass on the left.” It was unclear whether this actually applied to cyclists.

However, the latest version is more clear as it specifically requires drivers to be aware of cyclists. Rule 151 replaces 129: “In slow moving traffic you should…be aware of cyclists and motorcyclists who may be passing on either side.” Therefore this gives cyclists the de facto right to pass on whatever side of the slow moving traffic is safest in order to filter.

Besides the retrospective gratification, this corroborative support for my view on last night’s incident earns me nothing. Nothing, that is, unless my injuries don’t heal by next Sunday’s Ironman Switzerland, in which case I might be reviewing my right to compensation! But – as I wrote in my previous post on this subject – I feel part of the broader cycling fraternity and, as such, if this information helps someone else defend themselves in similar circumstances then I’ll be happy.

Safe cycling.