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The Biggest Threat To You As a Cyclist: Distracted Drivers


A new study has shown what we cyclists already know: drivers are more distracted than ever, which means they are a bigger risk than ever to those who share the road with them.

According to the study, which was conducted by AT&T, “61 percent [of drivers] admitted to texting and driving, a third check their email and 17 percent admitted to taking a steering-wheel selfie.”

Of course, these are far from the first shocking statistics about how little the average driver is focused on the road and the potential victims they are putting at risk.

According to the CDC, “each day in the United States, over 8 people are killed and 1,161 injured in crashes that are reported to involve a distracted driver.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Agency reports that “safety experts say drivers are about three times more likely to crash if they’re dialing a number on the phone while driving and 23 times more likely texting and driving.”

Even going hands-free isn’t helping to make drivers less distracted. As reported by the Washington Post, “a new study says it can take 27 seconds for a driver using a voice-activated entertainment system to regain full alertness after making a command from behind the wheel. That means a car going 25 mph can travel the length of three football fields before a driver’s brain fully recovers from the act of dialing a phone number or changing music using increasingly popular in-car entertainment systems.”

Even drivers who aren’t actively seeking dangerous distractions like text messages, emails, and social media can still endanger cyclists, other drivers, and pedestrians, by using tools like navigation systems that are increasingly common in today’s cars.

While these tools may be related to helping drivers, they have the exact same effect as cell phones and any other screen: they distract drivers from the job of driving safely down the road.

Time spent looking away from the road — even if it’s just seconds — has ramifications that go way beyond a momentary glance.

Of course, when you’re driving along, it’s easy to think “Oh, I’ll just reply to this text really quick”, or to assume that a few taps on your navigation screen will be helpful, not harmful. If you’ve ever used your phone while driving, you probably did it because it was easy and it because in the moment, it doesn’t feel like such a big deal.

That’s why this is such a hard problem to fight. The people doing it do think they’re doing any harm.

It’s only when their distraction keeps them from noticing a merge coming up, or a red light, or a cyclist on the shoulder of the road, that they realize how dangerous their habits are. And by then, it’s usually too late. Unfortunately, for most drivers, it takes a near-miss or a full-on crash to demonstrate to them just how distracted they were behind the wheel.

So what can you, as a cyclist, do to keep yourself safe?

This is tough, because of course, you can’t teleport into every car around you and remind the driver to pay attention. You can’t even know which drivers around you are being distracted by their phone or device at any given moment.

And it shouldn’t be your responsibility to make every driver behave better in order not to get hit, injured, or even killed. But unfortunately, it is necessary to acknowledge that today’s drivers may not be giving the road their full attention, and make sure you are keeping yourself safe from disasters that can be avoided.

  • Keep an eye on any driver you may have an upcoming interaction with. If you know you’re going to merge soon, or if you’re coming up to an intersection where a driver could make a turn into your lane, give a quick glance to the cars around you. Is the driver looking straight ahead? Can you make eye contact with them? Or are they distracted by a navigation tool, or looking at a phone in their lap? If possible, wave or say “hello!” to get their attention, make eye contact, and help them to be aware and present during your upcoming merge or other traffic interaction.
  • Keep a safe distance. If at all possible, control the amount of space between you and the cars on the road. If a distracted driver is drifting into your space, try to either pull away or even stop to avoid being hit, and make a noise to alert them that they are endangering you and other cyclists. When riding, try to be as far from the lane of traffic as you safely can without interfering with your own ride, or else take a position in the lane of traffic with the cars and be assertive about moving with the cars.
  • Be clear and proactive while you ride. Always use hand signals to indicate where you’re moving when you’re riding among cars. Make eye contact with drivers, and ride deliberately in the direction you’re going in. Try to predict where issues could come up, and try to make the drivers around you are aware of potential issues too or look for ways to get to a safer spot in the road. If you are looking ahead and focused on being predictable, you’ll help avoid confusion and surprises, which are the causes of many accidents (especially when drivers aren’t paying full attention).

Distracted driving is one of the most dangerous activities that humans are engaging in today, and it’s something huge numbers of people are guilty of. It just might be the most dangerous thing you face as a cyclist riding to and from work, and around your town for pleasure, so keep your eyes open and stay safe.

If you’ve been injured in a crash with a distracted driver, we are here to help. Give us a call for a free, no obligation consultation anytime: 415-466-8717.