My lunch and a pair of sunglasses for later in the day were stashed in my panniers. The day was warm enough to ride without a jacket or sweatshirt, so I brought along neither. Skies were clear, so I left my rain gear hanging in the garage. I was traveling light on my bicycle commute this morning.
I strapped on my helmet and riding gloves, and coasted down my driveway and into the street. I hadn’t traveled more than six houses from my home when a white and tan RV as big as a school bus backed out of a driveway across the street and headed straight for me and my bike. My bright, sunny ride to work had taken an unexpected turn.
The driver’s face was reflected in the RV’s side-view mirror, and I could see that he was concentrating on backing the vehicle straight out of the driveway. And he was doing a good job of it, too. But he didn’t seem to notice me at all. He was looking only at the vehicle’s rear end, and wasn’t aware that I was approaching at 15 mph from his left.
It quickly became apparent that the RV and I were on a collision course. As I was invisible to the RV driver, it seemed that it was up to me to avoid the crash. I didn’t think that I could brake quickly enough to prevent the collision. Suddenly, I was in a real jam.
As I considered putting the bike down to avoid an RV bumper to the face, I glanced sideways and noticed a driveway on my side of the street. Just like that, I rode up the driveway and onto the sidewalk. I stayed on the sidewalk for two houses to be sure that I was out of the RV’s path, then rode down another driveway and back onto the street.
I had learned this trick driving a car the wrong way down a one-way street in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, a number of years ago. The trouble began when I signaled for a left-turn in what I mistakenly thought was a turn lane. A driver in an actual turn lane on the other side of the street honked his horn repeatedly. I didn’t realize the problem until I turned and faced three lanes of cars and trucks driving straight toward me, with no driving lane for my car.
Fortunately, the cars were a couple of blocks away. I had enough time to turn into a driveway, drive along the sidewalk to the next curb cut, and then turn my car around so that I was headed in the right direction. I waited until all the cars had passed, and then proceeded with caution the right way down the one-way street.
When I left my house for my bicycle commute the other day, I wasn’t consciously thinking of how to avoid colliding with an RV, but I was cognizant of where the driveways were located if I should need one. Situational awareness, which is being aware of one’s surroundings and identifying potentially dangerous situations, enabled me to act as quickly as I did.
When riding a bike on a street, I’m always aware of traffic and what I can possibly do to avoid a crash if it becomes necessary. I’m conscious of the distance to the curb, the presence of parked cars, side streets, driveways, and curb cuts in case I need to swerve to prevent a crash.
I’m not exactly planning escape routes, but I am aware that they exist. It is comparable to riding by parked cars. I’m always checking for drivers, and if I spot one I prepare myself for a possible car door swinging open into my path.
In this instance, I couldn’t have told you that a driveway was on my right. But as soon as I realized that I needed to avoid the RV, I knew that it was there. This level of awareness can be the difference between a near miss and a crash.
On this day, I had dodged an accident and no one else noticed. I was the only person aware that a crash had narrowly been avoided. As far as the driver was concerned, he had successfully backed the oversized vehicle out of the driveway and everything was good.
All was good for me too. The sun was shining, my load was light, and the road ahead was clear.