Wednesday, September 25, 2013

More On Trucks Making Right Turns

Try passing this one on the right
Yet another blogger has stated that we need truck side guards to protect cyclists from right turning trucks. John Allen addressed this question a few weeks ago when side guards were promulgated in some earlier blog posts as a safeguard against a cyclist being trapped under a right turning truck. I added my two cents on this blog, to wit, the wise choice is to stay out of the danger zone to the right of a truck making a right turn. The absurdity of the conversation is this: some advocates assert that cyclists should willfully put themselves at risk through bad roadway positioning, often encouraged by "coffin corner" designs, depending entirely on the perfection of truck drivers or the technological finesse of body scrapers mounted on the sides of trucks to keep them safe. Now isn't it better to take safety into one's own competent hands instead?

The issue comes up especially when one has bike lanes, rideable shoulders, or wide traffic lanes at intersections where heavy trucks might be making right turns. If the cyclist becomes situated to the right of the large truck, the back of the truck will likely swing in on the cyclist leading to the truck overriding the cyclist (which is a bit different from the classic "right hook"). This scenerio has led to gruesome crashes as the cyclist is trapped to the right of the truck as the trailer (rear of the truck) follows a track closer to the curb than the tractor, pinching off the rider's space and potentially, crushing the rider.  Its happened with garbage trucks, too. We have an increasing number of large trucks on our roads as the new Smith's Mall/Trinity Site construction proceeds and there are trucks on the DOE site at LANL, especially on Diamond.  I think its important to review this issue here.

As John Allen has stated, well designed truck side guards MIGHT, as a last resort, partially protect cyclists from right turning trucks but could just as easily trap a cyclist underneath, smear him into the curb, or do nothing useful at all (many of the examples in the articles John and I critiqued don't look like they would do anything at all). The side guards have other benefits, such as possibly reducing wind blast to overtaken cyclists at high speed, improving truck aerodynamics, and preventing automobiles from submarining the trailer during a side impact or sideswipe.

But to avoid being killed or injured by a truck at a right turn intersection, its important for the cyclist to not ride to the right of the turning truck because in a turn, the rear of the truck pivots towards the cyclist (esp. with a tractor-trailer) and the rear wheels track closer to the curb and indeed can hit the curb even if the driver is adept at his job. Keri Caffrey covers that at Bike Orlando. If you have any doubts, stay behind the truck. Don't get trapped to its right. The danger of trying to pass or filter forward of the truck is "what if I don't get in front of the truck before it starts up and turns?" The answer could be "roadkill".

Perhaps when possible, we should provide bicycle boulevards and truck routes that are distinct from each other. I am sure this is often not feasible in an already built environment.  Bicyclists have to know how to coexist with trucks and vice versa for truckers coexisting with bicycle traffic.

Meanwhile, here is a good video by the American Trucking Association explaining right turning safety from the trucker's perspective. What comes through loud and clear is the trucker wants to keep anyone (including you) from getting to his right. Help the trucker out by understanding her(his)his predicament and cooperating with him(her). Don't be the cyclist who supplies the coffin in a coffin corner bike lane.


Cycling Smarter said...

This is one case where the cyclist is totally in control of his/her own destiny. I have turned down two cases where cyclist moved up beside trucks and were crushed. The physics/geometry is against us. It just doesn't work. I have a video of a cyclist jumping up on a sidewalk to avoid a bus making a right turn...staged...but very nasty.

Unknown said...

It would have been ihformative to have mentioned bicycle users trying to pass on the right. The training only mentions to watch for vehicles.

Steve A said...

I don't have much to add to my July comments other than to wonder what the REAL objective of the Chinese side-guard law is. Somehow, I doubt Treehugger has told all in that regard.

bikeolounger said...

But, unknown, bicycle users ARE operating vehicles. It may be that they are assuming pedestrians would be able to back out of the way, as they have an easier time changing direction than a cyclist.

There is a reason why many truck trailers have been equipped with the "caution, vehicle makes wide right turns" signs for the last few decades.

Khal said...

Even when they are not legally classed as vehicles, such as in New Mexico, they have all the rights and responsibilities, etc., etc. That includes the responsibility to know how traffic works, and not end up under a truck of their own volition.

I don't absolve truck drivers of all mistakes, nor do I absolve city planners of using common sense measures, such as defining bike boulevards and truck routes independently when it works out to be a useful idea--and of course, I'd be likely to put some of our city bikeway planners in the stocks for their bikeway designs. I do think cyclists need to be active participants in their own safety.