Dodging the Right Hook
By Kent Klaudt
No, we haven’t suddenly shifted gears and become boxers. Read on to learn how to avoid one of the most common collisions that bicycle commuters face!
What is a right hook?
A right hook collision happens when a motorist makes a right turn at an intersection into the path of travel of a bicyclist traveling in the same direction near the vehicle making the right turn. This type of crash is a real issue for urban cyclists, and a recent Canadian study analyzing crowd-sourced bicycle data found that right hooks accounted for 27% of collisions in which the bicyclist was traveling in a straight line prior to the incident.1
What factors contribute to right hook collisions?
In a recent study, researchers investigated the specific factors leading to right hook collisions by observing study participants using a driving simulator. The situational awareness of these “motorists” was measured while they made right turns in the presence of a bicyclist in an adjacent bike lane. The study found that the position of the bicyclist significantly influenced motorists’ overall situational awareness, and that motorist perception of bikes degraded when oncoming vehicles were nearby and the bicyclist was approaching the motorist from behind. Similarly, motorists’ ability to “project” future positions of a nearby bicycle also degraded when the bicyclist was ahead of the motorist and oncoming vehicles were present.
This study concluded that the motorists were more focused on cars in front of them than on bikes in their peripheral vision and thus a common cause of crashes in the simulator was motorist failure to even detect the bicycle. According to this study, a bicyclist approaching a motorist from behind is the most vulnerable to a right-turning motorist.2
Another study by University of Toronto researchers used sophisticated eye-tracking technology to examine motorist-versus-bicyclist right turn collisions. The age of the participant motorists was 35 to 54, and all had more than three years of driving experience. The study observed the drivers make right turns at both a signalized four-way intersection and an uncontrolled T-intersection leading to a smaller road. Both locations involved making right turns across dedicated cycling lanes. Most of the motorists in the study (11 of 19) failed to visually check for cyclists to their right and behind their vehicle before making a right turn. These attentional failures were more common amongst drivers who were familiar with the neighborhood.
Even when a motorist does see you prior to overtaking you and your bike and making a right turn, you may still be at risk of a right hook collision if the motorist fails to properly estimate your speed and the distance between their vehicle and your bike before turning right.
What can I do to reduce my right hook risk?
As bicyclists, we know from personal experience in urban riding that motorists often turn without signaling and without checking for bikes. Research confirms our lived experience cycling on city streets. So, what should we do as riders to minimize the risks of a motorist-induced right hook collision?
A. Riding Technique
Approaching a red light or stop sign:
As you are approaching an intersection, take a quick glance over your left shoulder to see if a car is about to overtake you to begin a right turn into your path of travel. A mirror can be helpful here.
If you do see a car signaling a right turn – or you think they may be preparing to turn right – you can signal left and take the lane if you have enough clearance to safely do so and believe the driver is slowing down and won’t hit you while doing this. This assumes that you are cycling in a jurisdiction like California that allows you to take the lane on a city street. Taking the lane makes your presence to the motorist unmistakable. If there isn’t enough time to take the lane, no worries, slow down, and if safe, go around the left side of the car that is turning right.
If safe, go around the left side of the car that is turning right.
Stopped at a light:
If you are already stopped at a light and a driver pulls up to your left, assume it is a driver who (1) will be making a right hand turn and (2) won’t see you. Watch for turn signals (used far less often than they should be), head turns to the left to watch for clear traffic to turn, edging to the right of the lane, or wheels turned fractionally to the right. In these situations, expect the driver to turn right as soon as possible, likely over you if you proceed on the same green. Better to pause and wait to see what they do before going.
Approaching a green light:
If you are near or at the intersection and a careless driver begins making a right turn into your path of travel, and you do not have time to safely brake to avoid the collision, consider attempting an “emergency right turn” to follow the car’s motion, go right with it, and avoid impact.
As bicyclists, we cannot control or even predict the actions of inattentive motorists. We can do some things to make ourselves more visible to them, however. Fluorescent clothing, ankle bands (or other clothing) containing reflective materials, and front and rear-end lights can all help to make you more visible to motorists. Should we have to strap on day-glow and armor simply to commute? No. But the consequences for us on bikes are far greater when we get hit than for those driving cars. Until roads are less car-centric, we are forced to take steps to protect ourselves that should be unnecessary.
Fluorescent clothing containing reflective materials can make you more visible to motorists day and night.
A Danish research project in 2018 used a randomized controlled study involving 6,793 cyclists to investigate the effect of bright-colored clothing on bike crashes. Riders who wore yellow jackets during the study period reported 38% fewer multiparty collisions than the control group that wore ordinary clothing.3 Fluorescent orange or yellow clothing is more effective in daylight, and reflective materials are more effective at night.
2 Jannat, et al., The role of driver’s situational awareness on right-hook bicycle-motor vehicle crashes. Safety Science, Volume 110, Part A, December 2018, Pages 92-101.
3 Lahrmann, et al., The effect of a yellow bicycle jacket on cyclist accidents, Safety Science, Volume 108, October 2018, Pages 209-217.
Have you or someone you know been involved in a bicycle crash? Want to know about your rights? Are you a lawyer handling a bicycle crash who wants the best result for your client? Contact Bicycle Law at (866) 835-6529 or email@example.com.
Bicycle Law’s lawyers practice law through Coopers LLP, which has lawyers licensed in California, Oregon, and Washington state, and can affiliate with local counsel on bicycle cases across the country to make sure cyclists benefit from cycling-focused lawyers.