too bad you can't shout "on your right" to drivers
August 3, 2005 8:36 PM   Subscribe

Cycling/JuryofMyPeers-Filter: when a cyclist crashes into a car because the car turned right into the cyclist's path, is it the driver's fault for not checking their blind spot, or the cyclist's fault for aggressively passing on their right?

I'm going down a semi-busy road on my commute home, angling into the left turn lane of a lighted intersection, hand-signalling all the way. The left turn traffic light suddenly turns yellow, so I drop my hand to my bars, and sprint to make the turn. As I turn, I realize that the car next to me is drifting right into my path, as the driver intends to pull into a gas station that's kitty-corner to us, and I'm totally in her blind spot.

She cuts me off. I brake. I hit her side mirror and we both drift into the gas station driveway, with her yelling at me for messing up her mirror (which isn't damaged at all, just needs to be realigned) and I yell at her to watch where she's going. Having made jackasses of ourselves, we go our separate ways and stew.

Except now I'm at home and wondering if I should've just braked and waited for the light to cycle back to green. What would you have done? If this had been a real accident with injuries (likely to myself) how would insurance have assigned blame? 100% her? 100% me? 60/40?
posted by bl1nk to Travel & Transportation (42 answers total)
i'm confused ... were there two left hand turn lanes? ... and you were in the right hand one? ... if so, then she was at fault

if there was only one left hand turn lane, you were at fault for trying to double up in one lane ... in fact it sounds like you may not have even been in the left turn lane, in which case you were making an illegal turn
posted by pyramid termite at 8:44 PM on August 3, 2005

you're supposed to stay in your lane when you make a left turn, at least as i understand it, so it's 100% her fault.
posted by fishfucker at 8:45 PM on August 3, 2005

It sounds to me like you were legally altogether in the right -- she turned into you, and you had the right of way by virtue of not being the one to be turning. I can't see that the light changing or the light color has anything to do with it.

Legally in the right is different, of course, of injured or uninjured. Consider this a reminder that cars, whether or not we like it, reign supreme on our roads, if for no other reason than that they're a lot bigger. You might be right, but if you're dead, it won't do you much good. :)
posted by waldo at 8:47 PM on August 3, 2005

that said, since no-one was hurt, everything's good. I've been on both sides of this, and i'd just chalk it up to "accidents happen". i've been hit by a car on my bike (my fault, mostly, i was crossing a street going the wrong way on my bicycle, and the driver was looking left for traffic and slowly rolled into me, and i've hit a bike, or, more properly, the bike hit me as I was coming up to a stop sign a little fast that I didn't know was there, so I stopped suddenly, only to hear a large bump from the rear of my car, when I looked in the rear view, I saw a cyclist pulling himself off of my bumper -- I felt pretty bad about that one.

I've almost hit cyclists several times although I try to be sensitive to their road rights (as I am a cyclist myself), and sometimes you just fuck up. That said, when you do, you should be apologetic about it, i think, so that's what makes me inclined to shake my fist at the woman who hit you.
posted by fishfucker at 8:49 PM on August 3, 2005

From your description, I assume that she was also turning left at the same intersction, and you passed her in your sprint? Unless I am misunderstanding something, it's really your fault. It 's illegal to pass on the right, to prevent the very thing that subsequently happened. Sprinting through yellow lights on a bicycle is also a very bad idea.

The classic bike/car accident usually happens when a motorist passes a cyclist, and then suddenly turns right at an intersection, cutting off the cyclist.

The cyclist is almost always held responsible, as they are are deemed to be overtaking on the right, but morally it's really the motorist's fault. Wary cyclists know to watch for, and avoid this one.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 8:56 PM on August 3, 2005

The other day I was in a bike lane pulling hard to get over a little hill with a big load. A very large pick up truck passed me in his lane, noticed a friend on the right at a corner on the far side of a minor intersection, pulled over and stopped in the bike lane. Who's at fault then?

I mean... You could technically argue that I was trying to pass on the right...

(My only injury was to my vocal chords because of how loud I screamed at him. And of course it was all okay because he said "uh, sorry." What a thoughtful fellow.)
posted by Chuckles at 9:13 PM on August 3, 2005

Pictures might be helpful, because I'm completely failing to comprehend the arrangement here.

But, the pedantic answer is that assigning legal fault depends on the state in which this occurs. Your state might subscribe to a theory that both of you can be at fault, or it might subscribe to a theory that any fault by the "victim" means the victim couldn't recover anything from the "bad person". (Or, of course, the other person could be 100% at fault no matter how you look at it.)

A lawyer in your state could give you a better answer and, as always, you should not depend on this as legal advice under any circumstances. IANAL.
posted by socratic at 10:12 PM on August 3, 2005

I had to look up "kitty-corner" and since it looks like an incorrect use of an ambiguous term, I'm not exactly sure what happend.

But, if she was turning right into a driveway across your lane before the intersection, she's in the wrong. If you went through the intersection next to her in a single left-turn lane and she subsequently turned right into a driveway either across what should have been an empty lane, or across no lane at all, but you were between her and the curb after the intersection sounds like you where in the wrong.

Here in Australia, if only one lane can (in our case) turn right, drivers turning right can pick almost any lane to land in coming out of the intersection. In such a case, if a cyclist did what it sounds like you did at an intersection I turn right at every almost every time I come home from work, I'd probably end up killing them. I don't mean "being angry that they dented my car", I mean I'd probably literally smoosh them up between my car and a guard rail along side the road.

While I was cycling, I made a point of never going through an intersection in the same lane as a car or bus. Which is why I was particularly annoyed one time when a bus pulled up to the right of me in my lane as I was queuing at a set of traffic lights with a left-only lane (that I wasn't in) and a left-or-straight-on lane (that I was on the left hand side of) -- effectively giving me no safe way to proceed through the intersection. I just had to hope that every car was indicating properly and didn't drift to the left as they went forward. I don't like having to hope that people are indicating correctly.
posted by krisjohn at 10:24 PM on August 3, 2005

Apologies if I get the situation wrong, but I think I can help clarify the situation. (Yes, even though it didn't happen to me.)

I think the car was in the left turn lane (or at least at the left of the left hand lane with the intention of making a left turn). The car started it's left turn and then cut to the right so that it could make a right turn immediately upon entering the new street. The bicycle entered the left turn lane at the right hand edge and proceeded to turn left travelling faster than the car. This put the bicycle to the right of the car, in the car's blind spot (or there abouts). The car cut to the right in order to turn into a driveway within a few feet of the intersection and collected the bicycle on the way.

(I had to read several comments before I figured it out, but hopefully I have got it...)

Anyway, the car may have been doing the wrong thing by turning left into the right hand lane of the new street. I suppose trying to pass on the right probably trumps that, but I really don't have any idea.
posted by Chuckles at 10:32 PM on August 3, 2005

I think both sides are to blame at least partially. The Car Driver for not watching their blind spots and the biker for not assuming the car would do something foolish.
posted by drezdn at 10:59 PM on August 3, 2005

The classic bike/car accident usually happens when a motorist passes a cyclist, and then suddenly turns right at an intersection, cutting off the cyclist.

This is the classic bike/car accident and it is always, 100%, without fail, no exceptions, the car driver's fault. Substitute a car for the bike and the right turning car turning from the left lane and then think about this situation. That is what I thought you were describing and despite what Pare... says, if you as the bicyclist take the blame for this in court then your lawyer has probably committed malpractice.

However, you say that you stopped, and it appears you were in the left or left turn lane, just as the light turned red yet the car approached you from the left? What lane was the car in? This does not make sense. Instead, did you get hit as you changed lanes towards the left? Without knowing more this might very well be your fault. Who cut whom off here? The lane changer is usually at fault, especially if they move across the path of overtaking left hand traffic, but let's hear the details on this one.
posted by caddis at 11:09 PM on August 3, 2005

Dude. I ride a motorcycle almost daily. It doesn't matter if you're in the right if you're dead. IF you could see her AND you knew you were in her blind spot, seems to me that common sense would've told you to back off.
"Ride like you're invisible." I've been told, so I'm telling you.

Keep the rubber side down.
posted by black8 at 11:12 PM on August 3, 2005

I'm about as confused as everyone else, but if the car turned right and, by doing so, went across a lane that it wasn't already in, then I'm guessing the car was in the wrong. If the car and the bicycle were supposedly in the same lane, then the bike was in the wrong, because you're not supposed to pass someone in the same lane as you (unless you're both two-wheelers. I think.).

At any rate, I'm glad nobody was hurt.

(krisjohn: I think the turning lane thing must vary a lot from place to place. In my state, in the US, you're required to turn into the nearest lane, and then make a lane change if you really wanted to be in a different lane. Not that people actually obey this rule very reliably.)
posted by hattifattener at 11:16 PM on August 3, 2005

I'm totally confused.
But, I'll tell you what a cop told me when I asked about the passing-then-turning-right thing: As the "vehicle" behind the one turning, it's your responsibility to have a safe distance to stop, making it your fault. But since Carbolic always comes by when I make a bold pronouncement with his access to Findlaw, well, I'd better pretend that I'm dead-sure on that just to make him check.

(As a side note, when I first read this, it made me think of an accident that I had with a cyclist that almost ended in a fist fight. We both came to a four-way stop, with him approaching from 90˚ to my left. I got there first, stopped, then continued through the intersection. He didn't stop, and creamed right into the side of my car, and started swearing at me. He was one of those jackasses in the full spandex gear on the touring bike, and was demanding my insurance info, since he said he had bent his fork. I told him to fuck off, and he tried to haul me out of the car. I drove off and left him there.
Not much of a point, except to say that you should always either stop or avoid the car, as they won't stop for you.)
posted by klangklangston at 12:21 AM on August 4, 2005

We aren't in disagreement on the "car turning right "scenario, Caddis. I absolutely agree with you that the true fault lies with the driver who cuts off the cyclist. Sadly though, in my jurisdiction, liability is almost always found to rest with the cyclist, who is deemed to have overtaken the driver from behind, and on the right hand side.

It isn't always necessary to break traffic laws to cause an accident. The motorist passes the cyclist, cuts into the right lane and THEN turns. In their own mind, and in the eyes of the law, they haven't done anything illegal.

That said, the scenario as described by Blink lacks enough information to determine who would bear the legal responsibility for the accident. We don't know the precise layout of the intersection and lanes involved, nor do know enough about the relative positions of the vehicles.

However, as described, the accident could have been avoided if Blink had recognized the riskiness of his action, and been more cautious. As others have pointed out, liability can be a moot point when a cyclist and car collide, and it is best to act accordingly.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 1:24 AM on August 4, 2005

Took me a while to figure this scene out, too, but here's what I think is being described:

Both bike and car are turning left. Bike intends to enter intersecting street. Car intends to enter gas station on far corner of intersecting street. Bike must turn more sharply than car, for each to go where they want. Car goes more to the right than bike does, but does not cross any extra travel lanes; it is exiting the one travel lane into the gas station. Bike is pedalling hard into car's right-side blind spot to make the light. Car does not go where bike expected; impact ensues.

Unless you're going to argue that the car should have signaled its (effectively) right turn while it was turning left, it seems clear the bike was wrong.


posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:18 AM on August 4, 2005

to go into the gas station
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:20 AM on August 4, 2005

If you were in a lane and traveliing acording o traffic laws, it's her fault. If you were scooting up the narrow channel between the cars and the curb, it's your fault for even being there.

I do it, too. But we both know it's slightly illegal.
posted by Mayor Curley at 4:26 AM on August 4, 2005

mayor: actually no, or at least not in NYC, where you are *required* by law to ride as far to the right as possible and your little channel is actually given legal status as a lane. meaning that if a car turns in front of you they are in the wrong. Not that this is anything beyond a legal abstration or that any cops are aware of these laws, but just to say.
posted by n9 at 4:36 AM on August 4, 2005

Your fault I think.
Where I'm at, it's illegal to pass on the right - which it sounds like you were trying to do.
You should have moved to the middle of the lane either before or as you entered the intersection, thereby avoiding a situation where you're making the turn while side-by-side with another vehicle.
Vehicle in front always has the right of way. That includes you. You should have taken over the turn lane and then moved back to the left after you were through.
posted by Pseudonumb at 4:57 AM on August 4, 2005

Oops. I mean "back to the right".
posted by Pseudonumb at 4:59 AM on August 4, 2005

I'm confused too, but if I understand it correctly, they're both wrong.


The left turn traffic light suddenly turns yellow, so I drop my hand to my bars, and sprint to make the turn.

Wrong. Illegal. When a light turns yellow, if you can stop safely, you're required to do that. I don't know where drivers and cyclists get the idea that the test is "can I make it?" It's not. The test is "Can I stop safely?" The cyclist indicates later in the post that stopping was an option, therefore, he should have stopped.

But for the driver turning left and then right (if I understood that correctly), you have to turn left into the left lane of the road your entering. Once you've completed your turn, you signal and change lanes (of course when you change lanes you check your blind spot). Once you've changed lanes, you signal and turn. You cannot just turn left and enter some midway point between the two lanes (or the right lane) and call this a lane change.
posted by duck at 5:28 AM on August 4, 2005

Wrong. Illegal. When a light turns yellow, if you can stop safely, you're required to do that.

Where I live, yellow means "proceed with caution", not "stop".
posted by Jairus at 6:31 AM on August 4, 2005

I'm still a little unclear on the situation, despite the analyses of other commenters. I'd really need to see a diagram.

It sounds like bl1nk is not guilty of crashing into the motorist while overtaking--it sounds like the motorist is guilty of an improper lane-change or turn, for failing to notice someone already in the lane she was turning into.

And while bl1nk might be guilty of running a yellow, clearly the motorist is just as guilty. Does that make it a wash, legally?
posted by adamrice at 6:58 AM on August 4, 2005

Response by poster: sorry for the confusion, all. Here's an illustration of the intersection and pseudo accident.

during the entire course of the turn, I was going slightly faster than the car, being off her rear bumper as we began our turns, and I was parallel to her front right passenger door by the time she started turning into the gas station, which was a little too far ahead to brake without impacting the car, but not far enough ahead that, in my mind, sprinting past the car would have been an option. I might've wound up going over her hood instead of twisting her side view mirror.
posted by bl1nk at 6:58 AM on August 4, 2005

typically, it is the presence or absence of an established bike lane that really makes all the difference, at least in my region. the solid white line that creates the bike lane means drivers cannot arbitrarily drive over it without considering and making allowance for the presence of other vehicles, specifically bikes. nevertheless, here in arizona it is the vehicular driver's responsibilities which are addressed in the applicable codes.

as amended in 2003, the applicable arizona revised statute in this case reads thus (ymmv):

Sec. 3. Section 28-735, Arizona Revised Statutes, is amended to read:

28-735. Overtaking bicycles; civil penalties

A. When overtaking and passing a bicycle proceeding in the same direction, a person driving a motor vehicle shall exercise due care by leaving a safe distance between the motor vehicle and the bicycle of not less than three feet until the motor vehicle is safely past the overtaken bicycle.

B. If a person DRIVING A MOTOR VEHICLE violates this section and the violation


2. RESULTS IN A COLLISION CAUSING serious physical injury as defined in section 13-105 to A BICYCLIST, the violator is subject to a civil penalty of up to five hundred dollars.

3. RESULTS IN A COLLISION CAUSING death to A BICYCLIST, the violator is subject to a civil penalty of up to one thousand dollars.

posted by RockyChrysler at 7:17 AM on August 4, 2005

I would say that the car was in the wrong here. However, I never feel comfortable being in a car's blind spot, whether I am cycling or driving in my car. Also, when turning left on a bicycle in this type of situation I stay in the middle of the lane through the intersection so that bike and car are not sharing a lane through the turn.
posted by caddis at 7:17 AM on August 4, 2005

Response by poster: caddis - do you cheat up past traffic and insinuate yourself between the lead car and second car in the turn queue? do you place yourself ahead of the lead car, or do you just pull up further back in line and wait your turn?

I only tend to position myself in the middle of the lane for some of the quirkier Boston streets where the continuing street in an intersection is slightly offset from us.
     |           < -- like>
For regular intersections I've always stuck to the right margin of traffic, if only because I feel guilty about imposing my bicycle into the flow. Poor prioritisation of driver annoyance, I suppose. I worry about the more common, mundane stress of slowing a car's speed, instead of the more acute anxiety that comes from placing oneself in harm's way.
posted by bl1nk at 7:49 AM on August 4, 2005

bl1nk - Thanks for the picture. As a cyclist, I have to say, you should have "claimed the lane". That is, put yourself in the middle of the left-turn lane - either in front of, or behind the car. It's just safer that way - as I believe you've seen in retrospect.

On a personal note... the more I ride, the more "vehicular" I have become. For example, if there is a line of cars stopped at a light, I no longer pass them on the right to get up to the light. I just take my place on line. Only in extreme cases will I do otherwise.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 8:19 AM on August 4, 2005

RockyChrysler: Bike lanes are a red herring here. You never take a left turn from a bike lane, unless you're in a drive-on-the-left country.

Bl1nk: thanks for the graphic. I think you blew it. It's just bad planning to put yourself in a position on the road that limits your options, as you did. You should always take the lane when turning left or right. In fact, I've also been told by a city bike coordinator (in a different city than you, admittedly) that you should always take the lane when you come to a stop at any intersection.

The number of motorists who are big enough sociopaths that they'll hit you intentionally is a tiny fraction of the number of motorists who will hit you because of inattention. Play the odds: it's better to risk aggravating them than to be invisible.

Anyhow, glad your OK. This was a painless way to learn the lesson.
posted by adamrice at 8:19 AM on August 4, 2005

Jaidis: Where I live, yellow means "proceed with caution", not "stop".

It looks like you're from Ontario. So am I. According to the Ontario Driver's Handbook:

A yellow — or amber — light means the red light is about to appear. You must stop if you can do so safely; otherwise, go with caution.

You proceed with caution only if you cannot stop safely. The same is true in Massachusetts where the cyclist is located:

"A steady yellow light means the traffic signal is changing from green to red. You must stop if it is safe to do so. If you are already stopped at an intersection or a stop line, you may not proceed."

I can't imagine that there's anywhere where a yellow light just allows you to proceed (even "with caution" -- presumably you're always supposed to drive with caution), since cars (or bicycles) proceeding through the yellow light result in cars (and bikes) still in the intersection when the light turns red.

The cyclist here is in Massachusetts (me too), where cars and bikes are routinely in the road during red lights even though they could easily have stopped safely when the light was yellow. If they have an accident because they proceeded when they shouldn't have, it's partly their fault.
posted by duck at 8:23 AM on August 4, 2005

caddis - do you cheat up past traffic and insinuate yourself between the lead car and second car in the turn queue? do you place yourself ahead of the lead car, or do you just pull up further back in line and wait your turn?

I take my position at the back of the line, just as I would if I were driving a car.
posted by caddis at 8:31 AM on August 4, 2005

I agree that you need to take the whole lane when turning left. Not sure about the legalities of it in your jurisdiction, though.
posted by grouse at 8:40 AM on August 4, 2005

I am with caddis and completely echo ObscureReferenceMan's comments. I have been known to pick up my pace to make it through a yellow light, but I always take the middle of the lane at lights (especially left hand turns), even if I have to wait in a line of cars.
posted by bwilms at 8:41 AM on August 4, 2005

I would say that you are most likely at fault here, although this is the kind of thing that varies widely by locality. However, you said that you started the turn behind her, and were speeding up as the two of you went through. This means that you were overtaking the car, not vice-versa. Basically, she had no idea you were there.

If there was no bike lane, and you were overtaking her, and you were clearly in her blind spot, how would she know you were there?

I'm glad that everything turned out OK, but don't assume that you can't be at fault just because you are the lowly cyclist, not the overbearing old woman in the road-boat.
posted by MrZero at 8:48 AM on August 4, 2005

I had the EXACT same accident you describe a couple of years ago. I was going pretty fast and the car turned into my lane. I ended up breaking the guy's windshield with my body (not a reccommended deceleration technique).

The law in Massachussetts, at least, says that the driver is at fault in this scenario. Based on this, I got a smallish settlement from the driver's insurance company, as well as a replacement bike.
posted by killdevil at 8:48 AM on August 4, 2005

Response by poster: RockyChrysler -- backing up adamrice's point about bike lanes being red herrings. Most bike lanes in Boston\Cambridge are too narrow to be of real use. There've been a few notorious dooring incidents in recent years where cyclists in bike lanes get slammed by the door of a parked car and are sent under the wheels of a bus. Streets here are just too old and narrow to support safe bike lane widths.

Caddis et al. -- I can see the logic and reason behind the need to claim a lane, but, damn, that whole 'waiting my turn' thing definitely requires some serious reprogramming. Part of it is just that Boston's a city with notoriously aggressive road behavior; and the other part is just enjoying a bike's ability to slip through stalled traffic. It's hard to give up that sense of mobility, but close calls like this do give me pause.

MrZero - when I'm driving instead of riding, I always check my blind spots before turning. Between errant cyclists like me or pedestrians engrossed in cell conversations, it's never a given that the absence of automobile traffic equals absence of impediment to my turn. But as others have said, in car v. bicycle, the car always wins; and it behooves the cyclist to assume that the driver will not be careful or predictable.
posted by bl1nk at 9:16 AM on August 4, 2005

just enjoying a bike's ability to slip through stalled traffic

You can still enjoy that when you're going straight ahead, if you're careful to stay out of blind spots. It's only when you're turning that it's dangerous.
posted by grouse at 3:41 PM on August 4, 2005

I'm it legal for bikes to sneak in between cars that are stopped at a light? I thought they had to act as a vehicle and wait their turn.
posted by Bear at 3:43 PM on August 4, 2005

Sorry, your bad. If you had taken your turn in the left hand turn lane we wouldn't be having this discussion. Driver would have cleared the intersection and maybe even had time to put a signal on. I avoid passing lines of stopped cars, take my turn, and that helps. I was was a very agressive cyclist and that got me into lots of shouting matches. Now I am much calmer, claim my space and live to fight another day.
posted by fixedgear at 4:52 PM on August 4, 2005

Yep. The diagram confirms my earlier supposition. You wouldn't have done that in a car, what made you think it was ok to do it on a bicycle; which is is much less visible, and far more exposed?

Regardless of the finer nuances of the law, you were to blame for the accident , bl1nk. You created a dangerous situation by failing to stay in your lane, passing on the inside from behind, and generally showing a complete disregard for the rules of the road.

Traffic rules are to ensure predictability, and they apply equally to all users. As a motorist, cyclist, and a motorcyclist, it always amazes me that some users think that the rules are somehow different for their spefic mode of transport.

The most egregious example I can think of to illustrate this mindset was the woman who came up behind me in her van when I was on my bicycle, waiting at an intersection to cross the street. When the light turned green, I pedalled off across the road, only to have her drive right over me as she proceeded in the same lane across the busy street.

When confronted by angry passesrby as I lay injured on the road, she genuinely failed to grasp that she had done anything wrong in driving her van right over me. She kept insisting that I was "in her way", that she was "in a hurry", and she wanted to drive on "her road" without delay.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 6:46 PM on August 4, 2005

As I turn, I realize that the car next to me is drifting right into my path, as the driver intends to pull into a gas station that's kitty-corner to us, and I'm totally in her blind spot.

Skipping the legal analysis entirely, I note that you became aware of a potential problem before the other involvee to that problem. It's just common sense and good manners that it then falls to you to begin efforts to head that problem off.

Also, whether you were within your legal rights or no, you were in a place where car drivers don't expect to encounter a cyclist. Since the car can kill you without the driver even noticing, it behooves you to sort of be careful in these situations.

As an avid driver turned avid-city-cyclist, I sympathize. But I also have a pretty good 'before and after' perspective; to summarize it, basically car drivers are completely ignorant of the existence of cyclists right up until the point that they realize they're running one over. I try to be careful now, as I did before, but I get surprised regularly, often by just-turned-visible cyclists who are angry at things I couldn't have reasonably been expected to prevent.
posted by ikkyu2 at 7:26 PM on August 4, 2005

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