By Chris Hoeber
A recent experience did not go well. I am retelling it in the hope that it will help us all pause to reflect on what we can do to make the roads safer.
I was in Los Altos Hills on a long downhill where a bicycle can travel at about the same speed as a motor vehicle. I was familiar with the road and kept a sharp eye out around curves, paying particular attention to the shoulder where it was hard to see detail because of the mottled lighting.
Coming around a curve, I saw a driver at a T intersection on the left. He almost stopped but then took his foot off the brake and rolled forward. I thought he probably saw me, but when he started moving, I called out “Hey” as a rough equivalent to what I hoped was a friendly beep. He hit the brakes but again took his foot off and rolled forward. I called out “Hey” again because I didn’t know if he saw me. Sure enough, he did the same thing a third time.
We were closing in on each other and I was rapidly running out of options if he chose to pull out in front of me. I must not have been speeding, because after I rode through, he pulled in behind me, rapidly accelerated and passed me, yelling from his convertible in what sounded like an angry voice, “I saw you, what’s the problem?” I responded, “Yes, but I had no way of knowing that.” And because we were both yelling to be heard, things went downhill from there.
Why did I call out each time he moved forward? Because he was not driving predictably. My interpretation based on experience was indecision; I have experienced drivers in similar situations decide at the last minute, “I can beat that cyclist if I floor it,” and screech out in front of me. I only have to guess wrong once for a trip to the hospital.
By law, drivers do not have to stop when pulling out of a driveway – they must yield. Under California Vehicle Code 21804, drivers exiting an alley or driveway must yield to all traffic that is close enough to constitute an immediate hazard and continue to yield until they can safely proceed.
So the driver did not break this law. But I did not know what he was going to do when he rolled toward the road. This is the same argument that is used by drivers against the so-called Idaho stop sign for cyclists – if the cyclist does not come to a complete stop, a driver with the right-of-way at an intersection can misunderstand the cyclist’s intention. I have to acknowledge that, in the right circumstances, this argument is valid.
In several of my columns, I have said cyclists must behave predictably. This rule applies to drivers also. The incident is an example of why simply not breaking the law may not be enough; that is only part of riding and driving safely.
I am sure the driver in this case did not know why I shouted a warning three times. I also do not think he realized he was rolling into the road. Because of the lighting, it was not possible for either of us to make eye contact, and I felt that I had to raise my voice to let him know I was there.
If I were talking to him now, I would tell him I was not angry, but that each time he started moving, I was scared. My wife said I could have tried “Hi” instead of “Hey,” and I’ll try that next time something like this happens. I have lived through similar experiences in which the driver pulled out and I had to make an emergency stop. This is tricky on a bike; if you haven’t practiced it, your weight will move forward when you slam on the brakes and you can easily flip over the handlebars. I’ve had other drivers yell out, “I know you saw me; why didn’t you stop?” or, “It’s not my fault; I didn’t see you.”
If you have any thoughts about how I or the driver could or should have handled it differently, I’d love to hear from you. In the meantime, I hope we can all put ourselves in the other person’s position when we have an encounter like this on the road.