Be prepared for the deadly 'right hook'

Are you prepared for the "Right Hook?" I'm not talking about heading to the gym for boxing lessons, fine-tuning your bowling, or even checking your fishing tackle. I'm talking about being prepared for potentially the most dangerous bicycling conflict on the roadway.

I have personally encountered the right hook many times. Luckily I was not injured, though I have regularly witnessed right hook close calls for other bicyclists in the Rogue Valley. This past October two cyclists died from right hooks on Portland streets.

The right hook happens when motorists make right-hand turns in front of cyclists at intersections, into driveways, parking lots, alleys or side streets. Sometimes the driver doesn't see the bicyclist. More often, however, the driver thinks that a cyclist is not moving very fast, so he mistakenly believes he can zip past the cyclist and turn in front of the bike. The result is that the vehicle either cuts in front of the cyclist or, as happened in Portland, the driver runs over the cyclist.

Typically, two situations create right-hook conditions. The first occurs when a right-turning motorist fails to see or yield the right-of-way to a cyclist moving with the flow of traffic in a bike lane, the right shoulder, or the right side of the traffic lane. Oregon law (ORS 8111.050) grants riders in bicycle lanes the right-of-way over motorized traffic as if the bicycle lane were another traffic lane

The second right-hook scenario occurs when a motorist is stopped at a red light or stop sign and fails to see a cyclist stopped in the bike lane or the right shoulder. Right turns in this situation are particularly dangerous, especially with large trucks or trucks pulling trailers, because the back of the truck or trailer cuts across the corner or curb, leaving no escape for cyclists stopped in a bike lane or on the road shoulder.

It's easy to avoid both of these potential bone-crunching, bicycle-wrinkling situations. However, both motorists and cyclists have to participate to avoid disaster.

Motorists need to be more attentive to cyclists on the roadways. Avoid cutting off a cyclist when making a free right-hand turn or when turning after stopping. Check your mirrors to see where the cyclists are at on your right. Look behind you before making a right turn. Make sure a cyclist is not passing you on the right.

Truck drivers, particularly when pulling long trailers, need to pay close attention to where cyclists are on the roadway before making right turns, especially if the roadway has a bike lane. Be patient; it does not take long for a cyclist to pass you on the right before you make the turn.

Cyclists can avoid the right hook by safely moving into the traffic flow at intersections, even where bike lanes exist. Taking up part of the traffic lane makes it harder for drivers to pass you and then cut you off or drive into you. Don't feel reluctant to take part of the lane, especially if there is no bike lane. Oregon laws say that cyclists have a right to the roadway, especially when unsafe riding conditions occur on the right side of the roadway.

Cyclists should definitely avoid passing any slowing or stopping vehicle on the right. When vehicles are stopped at a stop sign or red light, cautiously move up the right side. Watch out for opening passenger doors and right turn signals. When you arrive at the front of the stopped line of traffic, stop alongside the vehicle's front bumper and try to make eye contact with the driver. If you wave or nod to drivers to get their attention, often they will acknowledge that you are there. Don't proceed forward until you are absolutely sure they are not turning. Do not rely on vehicle turn signals.

When encountering large trucks or trucks with trailers, stay away from the passenger-side blind-spot and assume the drivers have no idea you are there. The drivers of large, long tucks have a big blind spot along the right side of their vehicle. It's safer to give them all the room they need, even though you may legally be right. I'm sure you have heard of the expression, "don't be dead right!"

If in doubt, follow the cardinal rule: never approach or proceed through an intersection alongside a motorized vehicle or near its right front bumper. It is impossible to be "right hooked" if you avoid this position.

Be safe and be prepared to avoid the right hook. Coming from the blind side, it can send a cyclist to the asphalt with far more traumatic results than a boxer's right hook sending an opponent to the canvas. The deadly right hook can be easily avoided with defensive driving tactics on the part of both cyclists and motorists.

Bicycling enthusiast Bob Korfhage of Phoenix is a former president of Siskiyou Velo bicycle club.

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