Mischief was afoot on the roads this morning. It seemed that every second driver had forgotten the simple requirements for making a safe turn. I don't have to tell any of you it's dangerous out there, but it bears repeating. A few weeks ago, my pal and Rapha videographer Dave Christenson, was knocked down for the second time in 2009. This time it was a right hook, earlier in the summer it was a left cross. He rolled up to a light in the bicycle lane, a right-turn only lane and an island to his right, and through lane(s) to his left. He almost came to a stop as the light changed to green, riding alongside the van immediately to his left one moment and then he was on the pavement seeing stars, the next.
The driver of the van had just turned right from a through-traffic-only lane and Dave had no chance to react. Concussion, bloody chin, cheek, knee and damaged bike are bad enough but he's lucky he wasn't dragged under the vehicle.
If you ride long enough, you'll eventually witness every kind of driving distraction imaginable, and perhaps a few x-rated variations that shouldn't be physically possible in a Toyota Prius. While these ill-conceived attempts at multi-tasking happen every day, they're dwarfed by the overwhelming number of drivers who've forgotten the basic requirements for turning safely.
I say forgotten because I assume that they would have failed their road test if they drove this way during the examination. Turning safely and responsibly is simple... check your mirrors, indicate, brake in a straight line, check mirrors, turn.
Here in California the percentage of drivers who actually indicate is no better than 50%. That includes the small fraction of dyslexics who indicate right, and turn left and the selectively deaf who drive for miles signaling they're going to turn at some point... presumably when the music stops. The fact that half of the state's drivers don't signal supports the idea that one or both of their hands is engaged in a non-driving activity (tuning the radio, holding a cell phone, coffee or sandwich). When you first learn to drive, indicating becomes so ingrained, so automatic, not indicating requires a conscious effort or a distraction.
If not indicating is dangerous, the picture doesn't necessarily get better when they do. Many times drivers brake before, rather than after they signal, giving riders and other motorists no insight into why they are braking. The turn indicator comes on almost as an afterthought when the car is adjacent to the cross street they intended to turn on. Its often a nasty surprise for those of us in the bike lane.