“Taking the lane!” Considered Harmful

First we’ll link to boilerplate legal disclaimer.

It’s common in the cycling world to “take the lane” as some kind of voodoo safety remedy. In fact, there’s a whole school of thought who thinks that this is the “safest place for a cyclist.”

And it is…

…if you consider “safest place” the same as “most likely to get rear ended.”

Just thinking about it logically says that you are most likely to be rear-ended if you are in the whole lane. The more effort a motorist has to put forth to get around you, the more likely they are going to fail to do so. This is especially true with iPhones, texting, and the myriad of other driver distractions available today.

Yeah, right, but if you are in the middle of the lane, you are most visible, and less likely to be hit. Right? Also, intersections are more dangerous if you don’t take the lane. Plus there’s the danger of dooring.

Proponants of “taking the lane” like to talk endless about intersections. In fact, they misleadingly conflate problems with intersections with bike lane injuries while negleting to include all the times that cyclists are rear ended.

I believe that intersections are different than rear-ending problems. Common sense says that you can be hit no matter what position you are in an intersection.

There have been no studies that show that riding in the middle of the lane makes you less likely to be hit in an intersection than in any other position. One may argue that the main factor that makes going through an intersection safe are paying attention to all vehicles entering the intersection. This is best done when going at a slow speed.

Thus, we need to break things out regarding cyclist’s awareness, speed, lane position, AND luck of the draw. Since this study has not been done, it’s impossible to determine the role that lane position plays in accidents in intersections.

Of course, there is the classic “right hook”, but again, this accident is most often prevented by awareness by motorists and cyclists.

To put it another way, with cyclists and motorists unaware, a collision between the two is inevitable _despite lane position_. On the other hand, if cyclists and motorists are 100% aware of one another, lane position will not cause a collision. The real world is a muddy mix of all these factors.

Dooring is another matter. “Don’t ride in the door zone” is a mantra. However, how true is this? Where is a scientific study that shows that getting hit by a relatively light car door is worse than being rearended by an SUV?

The objection: “But a door pushes you into traffic.”

Sure it does. Once you get doored into traffic, you get rearended which is exactly why I say NOT to ride in the middle of the lane.

Objection: “Getting rear-ended is not likely if you practice ‘effective cycling’.”

This is a totally dogmatic argument with no basis in reality.

“According to the National Safety Council, over 2.5 million rear end collisions are reported every year, making them the most common type of automobile accident ” Source.

This is for the much more more visible motor vehicle. If this many motor vehicles, by percentage*, are rear-ended how more likely are bicycles to be rear ended?

It’s hard to say because we don’t have the stats in the US. However, it’s common sense that the smaller and less visible you are the more likely you are to be hit.

Forget about the silly looking neon and flashing lights. Many of those who get rear-ended in San Diego county are lit up like Christmas trees. In fact, we’ll deal with that topic in another post called “Ninjas are safer on bikes”.

Now we consider dooring. How often to people die due to it?

Hard to say because there is no definitive study on it. However, an older study says that it almost never happens:

…”Cyclist strikes open door on driver’s side of parked car,” contain[ed] 5.3 percent of all accidents. This type accounted for only 0.8 percent of all accidents in the Cross study…”

Source is the “Cross Study.”

I’m too lazy to look up whether this study is the same one that “lane taking” advocates use to “prove” that bike lanes are dangerous.

Obviously, they are not.

Summary:

Bike lanes don’t cause drivers not to see you, riding too fast and not paying attention (on motorists _and_ cyclists parts) does.

Dooring is a negligible risk. Nearly everyone rides in the door zones on my commute. Nobody EVER took the lane EVER. NEVER. Yet dooring almost never happens, and when it does it’s not often fatal.

Taking the lane exposes a cyclist to a risk that if they were protected by NOT riding in the middle of the road, they would avoid.

Riding in the middle of the lane makes cycling more dangerous than motoring (because of less protection for the cyclist).

Yet, with ZERO studies and ZERO scientific backing, many Quisling advocates urge for riding in the middle of the lane. They also take this religious belief to deny cyclists their right to ride in as much comfort as motorists.

Also, there’s not much talk about responsibilty NOT to door cyclists. The same training and laws that protect us from getting rear-ended deliberately make it a legal necessity for motorists to LOOK before they open the door. Failure to do so puts someone in a legal liability. Most motorists do not text while opening doors (unlike normal driving). Also, door openings are infrequent while traffic is usually constant.

Conclusion:

How you ride is up to you.

More research is needed. It’s safe to say that we don’t know what the best answer is so a mixed style is probably best.

For example, if there is really slow traffic and many people are in and out of their cars, I’ll take the lane. If I am going down hill, I always take the lane.

When going up a very steep hill, I ride in the door zone.

I have been hit by doors two times, and I didn’t sustain any injury at all. Had I been rear-ended by a motor vehicle going at 50 MPH (routine on most roads I’m forced to ride on), I doubt I’d live to bitch about it.

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