Red Light Of Death

By Bill Telgheder

130_page18_image214I sense that most BTCNJ ride leaders and cyclists are following proper defensive cycling skills to keep BTCNJ rides safe. Some members have told me they feel safer on our rides, while others have told me they have asked reckless cyclists to be more considerate. The Executive Committee and I are happy with the club’s safety progress.

There are two cycling habits I would like to see us change. The first deals with turning right at stop signs and red lights. Ride Leaders do not always stop. Sometimes they just slow down checking for traffic and then make the turn even if a vehicle is approaching from the left. Remaining cyclists follow the leader and continue to move through the turn without stopping, again regardless of a vehicle approaching from the left. The logic is that there is plenty of room for both the vehicle and the cyclists if the cyclists stay to the right on the turn. However, the law states we must stop. In reality, however, we typically don’t stop unless we see heavy traffic or an officer. But when there is a vehicle approaching from the left, we must stop. We probably scare the heebie-jeebies out of the drivers who may be wondering if we are going to swerve into their lane. Remember, defensive cycling skills require us to stop in this situation.

The second habit deals with passing on the right.

No, not passing other cyclist on the right but passing vehicles on the right. Cyclists become extremely upset when another cyclist passes them on the right, but believe they have the right to pass motor vehicles on the right without a care. The same concerns apply to passing motor vehicles on the right as passing a cyclist on the right. Motor vehicle drivers do not expect you to be there —they do not see you in their blind spot, and it could cause an accident.

Traffic rules vary by state but generally forbid passing on the right except under certain conditions. Passing on the right is allowed when there are two lanes going in the same direction or when a vehicle is turning left.

I came across the phase “The Red Light of Death” while researching this subject. A cyclist stops to the right of a car that is already waiting at a red light. The driver can’t see the cyclist. When the light turns green, the cyclist moves forward, and then the car turns right, right into the cyclist. I experienced this potentially dangerous situation on a ride with about fifteen cyclists while crossing Route 23 from the west in Pompton Plains by Curly’s Ice Cream. There were about ten cars lined up at the red light. We began passing the cars on their right, and, just when the first few riders approached the front of the line of cars, the light turned green. The first car in line started to turn right not knowing cyclists were approaching. The car almost hit us. And to make the situation even worse, all ten cars had to wait as all fifteen cyclists slowly went through the green light. Not all drivers were able to make it through, and I am sure a few cursed us. No need to wonder why some motorists are not happy sharing the road with cyclists.

Passing other riders or motor vehicles on the right is inherently dangerous. Think twice before doing so and please be extra vigilant. At red lights and other similar situations, just get behind the last vehicle and patiently wait your turn to proceed. It is much safer. Be safe out there.