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Citibike - On the defensive

In last week's edition of this column we spoke about the importance of taking responsibility for our own safety. This week we will explore the concept a little further. There is a term that is often used by driving instructors, but that sadly seems to be forgotten as soon as people get within spitting distance of their bikes. The term is “defensive driving”, and it is the most basic, and most important, principle of bike safety.

The first and most important rule of defensive driving is to be observant. There are several riding strategies taught by rider safety schools, but they have one thing in common – they all start with the need to observe. So, wherever you are riding and whatever the traffic conditions, always be on the lookout, evaluate what other road users are doing and identify potential hazards before they become a risk.

The next important rule is to treat intersections with due respect. The vast majority of multi-vehicle collisions involving bikes happen at intersections, and more often than not it wasn’t the biker’s fault. Accept this as a given: sooner or later another road user will cross an intersection in front of you. Expect it to happen at every intersection so that when it does happen, you will be ready for it. Approach an intersection cautiously until you can clearly see what other road users there are, and try to predict their intentions. Plan a potential escape route, slow down and cover your brakes so that you can stop quickly if needs be.

Another principle of defensive driving is to never trust your fellow road users. Don’t expect others to behave responsibly or even logically. Most of them will, but you will always find a few who will be unpredictable and dangerously irresponsible. Some of it will be intentional, some merely through a lack of attentiveness. A prime example is when you are at a traffic light, and a vehicle on the cross road has his indicator on. Don’t accept that he will turn – it is quite probable that he has either forgotten to cancel it, or that he intends to turn only after crossing the intersection. Rather wait until you are 100% certain of his intentions before entering the intersection.

Covering the whole subject of defensive driving would probably fill a book, but these three principles should go a long way towards keeping you safe. On a bike, defensive driving is a must, because of our vulnerability and the lack of a protective cage around us – in a collision between a car and a bike, the bike will invariably come off second best. It has been proven that aggressive driving doesn’t get you to your destination any quicker, so why take the risk?

Chill out and enjoy the ride safely – in the final analysis, you have no greater priority that getting to your destination alive.