What Cyclists Need to Know about Trucks

November 30, 2008

Trucks have huge blind spots. Truck drivers cannot see little things in their huge blind spots. Large vehicles off-track when turning, so they will appear to be going straight and often swing wide before making a right turn. © Commute Orlando

Cyclists hit by turning trucks is a repeating news story which highlights the most serious deficiency in our system — education of cyclists. Sometimes these crashes are caused by the truck driver passing a cyclist prior to turning right, but very often they are caused by the cyclist passing the truck on the right. In both cases, the cyclist has the power to avoid the crash.

Here’s how YOU can keep this from happening to you:

  • Do not stop at an intersection on the right side of a truck. If you have already stopped in a bike lane and a big rig pulls up next to you, don’t assume the driver has seen you. Get off your bike and move it to safety (your life is worth the inconvenience). It’s better to stop in the middle of the general traffic lane if you arrive first. (In many cases it’s safer to stop in the line of traffic than to pass the queue.)
  • Do not linger next to a truck on any side, in any lane. If you are riding near the same speed, slow until you are behind the truck. (This is taught to motorcyclists, it applies to all vehicle drivers, even car drivers!) 
  • If a truck passes you, slow down and let it get ahead of you ASAP. If you are approaching an intersection, merge to the left and ride near the center line to avoid the moving blind spot (see Left Cross in the Blind Spot).
  • If you are in a bike lane and passing stopped traffic, do not pass a truck unless you can be clear of it before approaching any intersections or driveways and before traffic begins moving again. (This is a case where bike lanes offer a false sense of security that can get a cyclist killed.)
  • Or, just don’t pass a truck on the right at all. And be cautious when passing on the left, too.

Trucks make wide turns. They cannot physically make a right turn from the right curb, so they will often leave a large, inviting opening on their right prior to a turn. They will also move straight into the intersection before starting to turn. When a truck turns right across your path, it is almost impossible to escape its rear wheels. So don’t get caught in a spot where this can happen! Be aware of what kind of situation can lead to a potential crash and avoid it.

Here’s an example of how blind-spot awareness saved my life last year.

A plan view of all blind spots (the rear no-zone is expanded for highway-speed following distance). From AAA Driving Survival. © Commute Orlando

I was riding North on Magnolia through downtown. I was in the bike lane. Approaching Concord, I saw a slow-moving truck in the right traffic lane. I slowed and hung back. We continued to Colonial, where the light was red. The bike lane is properly-striped to the left of the right-turn-only lane, so it would be correct for me to ride in it to the intersection. But the truck was in the right thru-lane and I don’t ride next to trucks. I decided to pull into the thru-lane behind it. Just as the truck reached the Colonial intersection, the light turned green. The truck driver turned on his right turn signal and turned right — across the bike lane and the right-turn-only lane. Yes, he made an illegal turn. He probably checked his mirror for cars in the turn lane, but he would not have seen me. He never did see me, I nonchalantly passed him on the left and went on my way. But it was not lost on me what would have happened had I made a different decision. And I wondered how many other cyclists would have made the same decision.

Acute awareness of vehicle blind spots was taught to me in motorcycle safety school. Perhaps if bicycle advocates and the bike industry put as much emphasis on education as the motorcycle industry does, I wouldn’t keep seeing articles like the following:

Here are 2 crashes from this month. Both of these cyclists were very fortunate to survive.

11/25/08 Elderly bicyclist injured in crash with big rig

[The cyclist] and the big rig were both stopped in the street waiting for a train to pass prior to the crash. Once the train passed, the big rig made a right turn from Lemon Avenue onto a side street, striking the still stationary bicyclist.

Note: the satellite view shows what appears to be a wide curb lane. Wide curb lanes allow cyclists to ride on the right of traffic, but cyclists should still be cautious about passing stopped traffic. If you suddenly find yourself in a situation where traffic is stopped and you are next to a big rig. Get off your bike and get off the road.

11/18/08 Cyclist Down: Fillmore and Fulton

The cyclist’s description: “I was cruising down Fulton eastbound and saw the truck ahead of me. I sped up a bit so I’d stay within range of his rearview mirrors. If I were too far back, the box part of the truck would block me. We approached the intersection and I was keeping an eye on his turn signal because I was passing the cars. I was going about 20 and there was no turn signal. As I came towards the intersection, I saw he was turning and hit the brakes. I skidded into the side of the truck and he kept turning, which pulled me under.”

Note: Fulton street has downhill bike lanes which are dangerous because cyclists can travel at motoring speeds. Any time you are traveling at downhill speed, you should be in the traffic lane. You need way more room to maneuver than a bike lane provides. If you are traveling faster than traffic, it is safer to pull into the traffic lane and slow to the speed of that traffic than to fly past it on the right. This allows you to easily pass right-turning vehicles on the left, instead of being hit by them as they cross your path.

Here are 4 more that have happened in the last 14 months. These cyclists were not so lucky. (All of these crashes involved cyclists in bike lanes.)

John Allen lists a bunch more in this article about mindless passing on the right (and how bad bike facilities encourage it while we educators are trying to discourage it).

When you know how to be safe around trucks, it won’t happen to you!


Here is a video for cyclists by the Portland Water Bureau.

I also found this video from the trucking industry. This is aimed at motorists and highway driving, but it has some good blind spot images in it.

This entry was posted on November 30, 2008 at 2:04 pm and is filed under Bicycle StatisticsBike FacilitiesCycling EducationIn the NewsSafetySmart Moves. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.