If you think about it, most of the time drivers of trucks, autos, or bicycles are trying to GUESS what all those other road users are going to do. Usually the best guess is that someone will keep doing what they’re already doing, until they signal that something will change. They might show brake lights, turn signals, or hand signals to communicate their intention to slow, turn, or change lanes. On a bike when you’re riding with other cyclists you can also TELL them your intention: “Slowing”, “Stopping”, “Turning right.” This communication will avoid a nasty surprise.
But what about overtaking? In Europe drivers often flash their main beam headlights to show they want to pass, but the decision to do so safely is always the responsibility of the overtaking car. The slower vehicle should be in an appropriate lane for their speed, but that’s all they need do.
Bicycle riders sometimes are tempted to “help” an overtaking car or truck by waving them through. That can be a big mistake, particularly on a winding road with poor visibility. You might see there’s a gap in oncoming traffic but you DON’T KNOW how ready the driver behind is to make use of the opportunity. Maybe he or she is in the wrong gear, is pulling a heavy trailer, or just doesn’t have much accelerating power. The last thing you want is for drivers to be faced with oncoming vehicles just when they’re alongside you; every instinct will make them pull to the right just where you are!
How should you help overtaking? Glance back (the shoulder check) so the driver knows you’ve seen the vehicle behind. When you want to be overtaken then move right a few inches, still leaving yourself plenty of room from the edge of the road. If there’s oncoming traffic then move LEFT a little to dissuade unsafe passing.
Suppose you’re in a long line of bicyclists, shouldn’t you wave drivers past then? NOPE! If visibility is poor, what you should do is to break that lovely pace line into groups of two or three riders, leaving space for an overtaking vehicle to pull over if they can’t complete the pass. It might spoil your mental picture of the Tour de France, but the roads are closed there.
If you signal someone to pass and there’s a crash, YOU might be found liable, so DON’T try to tell them (or me) what to do!
[Martin Clinton is a Certified Cycling Instructor. He teaches the Street Skills classes for SCBC.]