As we head deeper into autumn and the number of daylight hours become fewer, the age-old conflict between motorists and cyclists threatens to rear its head once more. But you can avoid any confrontation by following our tips to drive safely around cyclists during the autumn months.
Give them space
This applies all year round for drivers sharing the roads with cyclists, but if anything, it applies doubly in the autumn months. This is because cyclists have additional hazards to avoid, such as autumn leaves piling up in the gutters of roads, or drain covers made slick by drizzle and leaf mulch, and so on. This means that while they’re riding along close to the edge of the road, they might suddenly need to swerve out slightly into the road to miss an obstacle that would otherwise have them off their bike. Be aware of this and give them more than a car’s width when you pass – even if this means waiting behind them for oncoming traffic to clear.
Watch out for glare
When the clocks go back at the end of October, that’ll mean most after-work commutes are taking place either in the gloaming of sunset, or just in the plain old dark. However, if you’re driving just before the sun has set, there could be a problem with excessive sun glare through the windscreen as it gets very low in the sky. Pay particular attention to this, because even the most well-dressed cyclist – as in, they’re wearing lots of reflective gear while they’re riding – will be hard to spot if you’re glowering into blazing sunshine at around 4pm; especially if they’re riding along tree-lined routes, where the dappled light will make things even more difficult for the unaware driver.
Keep an eye out for flashing lights and reflectors
Obviously, it is a good idea for cyclists to make themselves as visible as they can before they set out on a ride, including the use of flashing bicycle lamps and plenty of reflective clothing. But, since the 1980s, bicycles have lots of reflectors built into them as standard – including on the pedals, for instance – and it’s the tell-tale signs of these being caught by your headlights that you want to keep an eye out for. It’ll give you extra warning that they’re ahead and allow you plenty of time to plan your approach and subsequent safe pass.
Keep your car in top condition
Again, it’s one that counts all year round, but at this time of year you want to make sure your lights all work properly, that your tyres are not excessively worn and are correctly inflated, and that you have lots of screen wash in your vehicle’s system so that you can keep the windscreen crystal clear. Keeping on top of all these factors will mean you should be better able to identify hard-to-spot cyclists in the first place, and also that you can safely bring your car to a halt should you need to in a hurry.
Don’t splash cyclists
If you’re on a narrow road and there’s a large puddle in your lane, and you can see a cyclist coming the other way who might be sprayed with filthy water if you plough on through, then bring your car to a halt before the puddle – if you can do so safely for other road users, that is. It’s actually illegal in this country to splash a pedestrian with water, so expect the gardai to take a dim view if you do the same to a cyclist when you can easily and safely avoid it.
Inevitably, you’re going to get caught up behind a cyclist at some point, who’s possibly riding into a strong autumnal headwind – or trying to avoid being blown off their bike in a crosswind, even. They will also be trying to keep an eye on leaves and standing water in the road, and – if it’s typical Irish weather – they’re extremely likely to be cold and/or wet. Therefore, if you’re in your warm, dry car, it doesn’t hurt you in the slightest to slowly follow a cyclist, at a respectful distance of course, for a distance while you wait for the right moment to safely pass them. Have a little patience with those who are safely and considerately riding a bike, as the alternative of coming into contact with them using your car is a much worse situation than you being delayed a minute or so by travelling at a cyclist’s speed.