Vehicle blind spots and carelessness are a deadly combination. Here’s some ways that you, as a bike rider, stay out of harm’s way.
What are blind spots?
Vehicle blind spots blot out regions of the road much larger than most people realise. These are areas that the driver cannot see by using a mirror and in some cases, looking directly.
There are certain design elements of a vehicle’s design which impact the size of blind spots such as the windscreen frames (known as A-pillar or B-pillar), windows and headrests.
A 2011 RACV study found “in some vehicles tested, a pedestrian or cyclist as close as nine metres away and a vehicle 20 metres away couldn’t be seen by the driver because the design of the vehicle created a side blind spot.”
Blind spots can be eliminated by the driver conducting a simple head-check before turning or changing lanes.
Slowing appropriately while checking all mirrors carefully also reduces the possibility of a blind spot obscuring a other vulnerable road users such as people riding bikes, pedestrians and even motorbikes.
Blind spots and trucks
There are regions of the road around trucks and large vehicles that the driver cannot see by looking directly or using a mirror.
Large vehicles, such as trucks, tourist coaches and buses, are a challenge for people who ride bikes because they take up so much room on the road.
Specifically, large vehicles occupy the space that bike riders are generally accustomed to having available to pass on the left-hand side when there isn’t a bike lane. However, when sharing the road with larger vehicles, the left side is a highly risky place to be.
The drivers of heavy vehicles are professionals and are adept at piloting their huge transporters in heavy traffic and through tight intersections. They are also hyper-aware of their length and blind spots.
However, for all their driving prowess, they simply cannot see what their mirrors don’t show them.
THE DOS AND DON’TS: THE BEST PLACE TO RIDE
The major blind spots for a large vehicle are directly behind and to the side.
- the right-hand blind spot is dangerous when overtaking: the rider must be aware that they might not be seen if the large vehicle pulls out to the right.
- don’t move into a space in front of a truck—even if it’s a bike box—because the blind spot under the windscreen often stretches more than two metres ahead, which is enough to hide you.
- the left-hand blind spot is the greatest risk to the bike riders. When a large vehicle begins to turn, the ample alley down the inside closes up where the trailing wheels of a longer vehicle cut in tight to the curb. Side mirrors also become less effective.
With blind spots as large as they are, it’s important that bike riders assume they haven’t been seen—even if they are technically in the right—and stay well back to allow the large vehicle to make its turn.
Many freight and construction companies have recognised the risks of sharing the road with bikes and are making improvements to their fleets’ large-vehicle mirrors, vision aids and side under-run protection rails.
However, people who ride bikes need to be aware of the extent of the blind spots of these vehicles and ride defensively.
Tips for sharing the road
- Assume that drivers haven’t seen you.
- Do not pull up on the left side of a large vehicle.
- If the truck comes alongside you, resist the urge to shrink into the gutter because that actually makes you less visible.
- Do not overtake a turning large vehicle.
- If a large vehicle turns in front of you, take evasive action by escaping onto the footpath.
- Turn your head to check blind spots before turning and merging.
- Move your head to see around window frames when scanning on approach to an intersection.
- Make turns slowly, being ready to stop if necessary, while making multiple, careful checks of the side mirrors.