Despite the play on words, getting hooked is one of the most dangerous situations you can get yourself into when riding a bike on the road, and it has nothing to do with boxing. Hooking is the generally the result of not being seen, not seeing and/or an inflamed sense of urgency. So, what is a hook?
As suggested by the title, there are two types of hooks, a left hook and a right hook. Essentially, a hook is when a motorist turns into a cyclist. A right hook is when a car passes you on your left and then turns right, cutting you off or worse, knocking you off your bike. A left hook is when a car is making a left turn and hits you as you’re crossing the lane that the car wants into: a left hook tends to result in more serious injuries.
Avoiding Right Hooks
A right hook occurs suddenly. A right hook does not occur (nor should it occur) when a motorist is waiting at an intersection in the right lane with a clear intent of making a right turn (signal light flashing and position of the vehicle) and then running into a cyclist as the cyclist passes the motorist on its right. That was the cyclist’s fault for moving suddenly into the motorist’s path, not the motorist into the cyclist’s; the cyclist should have noticed that the motorist was waiting to make a right turn and should not moved into their path. Below are four scenarios in which a right hook might occur but not all of them are the fault of the motorist.
Types Of Right Hooks and How to Prevent Them
Getting Right Hooked When the Light Turns Green
The motorist and cyclist have stopped at a red light and are waiting for the light to turn green. When it does so, the motorist turns right into the cyclist.
I believe that the cyclist could reduce the chances of being right-hooked in this situation by being more visible. This is not to suggest that it is entirely the cyclist’s fault, nor will being more visible always prevent this type of right hook. However, a cyclist wearing bright clothes and/or reflective gear on the upper body would be more visible and less likely to be right hooked.
For example, the other day while riding my bike, I was passed by a cyclist in black shorts and a dark brown shirt: he was much faster than I so I watched him for a bit as he got further and further away from me and noticed that he wasn’t very far ahead of me before I couldn’t see him well. Brighter and/or reflective clothing may have enabled me to see him more clearly at longer distances.
From the position of the cyclist in the image, relative to the position of the car, the cyclist appears to be beside the passenger door which is not the most visible location of the cyclist relative to the driver (especially, if there is a passenger between you and the driver). Therefore, to make yourself more visible, when you stop for a red light, you should stop ahead of the car beside you such as by the front bumper or into the pedestrian crosswalk (but not blocking its use by pedestrians): in at that position, there is no reason why a motorist couldn’t see you.
Not that you shouldn’t be using front and rear lights, but, given that you are somewhat beside the car and that bike lights are less visible or noticeable when viewing a bike from the side than from in front or behind, then, in this scenario, they may not be as useful for making you more visible as bright and/or reflective clothes would.
Getting Right Hooked at a Stop Sign
There are two possible scenarios here. The first one is that both the vehicle and cyclist have stopped at the stop sign and when they proceed again, the motorist turns into the cyclist. The second scenario is that the motorist had stopped at the stop sign, the cyclist wasn’t at the stop sign at the same time as the motorist but, instead, the cyclist was approaching the stop sign after the vehicle had got there and the cyclist was not planning on stopping (which could be as slow as a rolling “stop” or as fast as blowing by the stop sign at full speed).
Again, like the previous scenario, if you’re stopping at a stop sign with another vehicle or before another vehicle shows up, stop further forward than the vehicle, such as at the front bumper or partially into the pedestrian crosswalk, so that you’re more visible. Also, bright clothes and/or reflective gear will help make you more visible because, in this situation, whether you arrived at the stop sign at the same time as the vehicle or after the vehicle had got there, the vehicle would have had to pass you and so to better ensure that the motorist in the vehicle saw you as they passed you, bright and/or reflective clothing will help make you more visible to the motorist.
If you arrive at the stop sign after the motorist had arrived at the stop sign, I recommend you treat the situation like a 4-way stop: vehicles move in the order in which they arrived so since you arrived after the motorist, allow the motorist to move first and then you’ll know which direction the motorist will be going before you start to move. Furthermore, this is not a time when you can do a safe rolling “stop” because you might roll into the path of the vehicle or into the vehicle itself if the motorist makes a right turn right in front of you.
If you’re thinking about cycling through the stop sign, passing the stopped vehicle that’s already there, don’t do it! Not only is it illegal in most regions but as you can see, it could lead to a dangerous right hook. Don’t even try to use the Idaho Stop Law as a defense because it (or its equivalent) may not be law in your region and secondly, even within Idaho, the only time you may treat a stop sign as a yield is when it is safe to do so and it obviously isn’t safe to do so, and so, your defense, even in Idaho, would fall flat on its face.
Getting Right Hooked When You Pass a Vehicle at a Green Light
The motorist slowed to make the right turn yet the cyclist continued in a straight line, passing the motorist on its right, ending up in the path of the turning car.
This is the fault of the cyclist for not recognizing a potential right hook situation or ignoring the signal and position of the car as indications that the motorist was intending to make a right turn. A cyclist, even in a bike lane, should not pass a car on its right side near an intersection. However, in some situations, the motorist may also be at fault because, in order to get to the intersection before the cyclist, at some point, the motorist would have passed the cyclist along the way. On the other hand, perhaps the motorist passed the cyclist a way back but because of a traffic slow down, the motorist had to wait quite a while before being able to make a right turn, may have forgotten passing the cyclist, who had lots of time to catch up and when arriving at the green light, the cyclist tried to pass the motorist as the motorist was about to turn.
I might suggest that the bike lane (as illustrated) in this situation was not properly constructed: on the approach to the corner, the bike lane should have a dashed line allowing the car to move into the bike lane to make the right turn, then the car would have blocked the cyclist from passing on the right.
When you approach a stopped or slower car from their right side, you are approaching the vehicle from their blind spot where it is difficult for motorists to see you or be aware of the your presence. If the motorist had angled the car to the right a bit and/or turned on its right turn signals, even if approaching from behind the vehicle along its right side, you should make note of these signals as indicators that the motorist intends to turn right and you should either look to make sure the motorist sees you before proceeding across their path (safer), stop and allow the motorist to make their right turn before proceeding across the intersection (safest) or, if there is a gap, pull behind the motorist and continue through the intersection after the vehicle has turned right or, if there is a gap behind the vehicle and a lane to its left, pull behind the vehicle and then pass it on its left.
Assume that, if you’re approaching a motorist from behind along the side of the car (it doesn’t matter whether it’s the right or left side), you’re approaching in the motorist’s blind spot and the motorist might not see you. A headlight on your bike will make you more visible but, unless the motorist does a shoulder check, you and your bright light, might be in the motorist’s blind spot and not seen at all.
Cyclists on sidewalks are at greater risk for being right hooked because they are approaching the intersection from further away from the car (and therefore, not visible in vehicle mirrors) and at a speed faster than pedestrians (and therefore not expected to be there). If the motorist looks at the end of the sidewalk for pedestrians and doesn’t see any, the motorist will assume that it is safe to make the right turn and they won’t be expecting a fast cyclist to appear at the intersection from the sidewalk. When cycling on a sidewalk, behave like a pedestrian.
Getting Right Hooked When a Motorist Passes You
The cyclist is proceeding forward towards a green light and a motorist passes the cyclist and makes a right turn into the cyclist.
This doesn’t have to occur only at a traffic controlled intersection, the street to the right might be a driveway to a business or a home, it might be a 2-way controlled intersection where the street you’re on doesn’t have a stop sign but the cross street does: any of these (and perhaps other intersections I haven’t thought of) may be potential right hook locations.
In this situation, the motorist should have noticed the cyclist and even if the motorist passed the cyclist on the approach to the intersection, the motorist should have slowed to allow the cyclist to pass through the intersection and then made the right turn after the cyclist has moved on. This right hook situation is generally always the fault of the motorist and is, in fact, the most common occurrence of a right hook.
It might be the result of the motorist’s attention being diverted elsewhere (phone, looking left, dog in the front seat, day dreaming, …). Alternatively, some motorists are in too much of a hurry and, even though they know the cyclist is there, they may think they can get sufficiently far enough ahead of the cyclist to cut across the cyclist’s path without interfering with the cyclist.
Bright and/or reflective clothing and a rear light make you much more visible and less likely that a right hook of this type would occur by accident.
Being aware of the traffic around you, such as listening for the sound of vehicles, will enable you to know if a vehicle is close to you or on its way to passing you. Most modern personal vehicles do not make much engine noise, unless accelerating: most of their noise is the sound of their tires on the road, which means that all-electric cars make virtually as much noise as gas-powered vehicles so you can be comforted knowing that, in the future when virtually all cars are electrically-powered, you will still be able to hear them on the roads around you.
Coincidentally, this almost happened to me yesterday. An impatient motorist, seemingly unwilling to wait for me to ride across the cross street, sped up, passed me and then made a hard right across my path into the oncoming lane (empty of other vehicles) of the cross street and nearly up onto the curb on the oncoming side of the cross street. This was a stupid move for a variety of reasons, one of which is that the cross street approaches the street I was on at a fairly steep angle downhill and secondly, vehicles on the oncoming side of the street round a corner before they reach the stop sign so the motorist who passed me, may have encountered an oncoming vehicle that suddenly appeared around the corner. Fortunately, this didn’t happen, neither did I get hit because the motorist made a fast wide turn well in front of me: nevertheless, it frightened me a bit. Additionally, I was at a bit of a disadvantage too because the approach to this cross street is up a short, steepish hill so it is not uncommon to hear cars rev up a bit as they pass me while climbing up the hill so I didn’t interpret the revving of the car as an attempt to quickly get past me and hook me but just as a means of getting up the hill; in fact, the motorist was doing both and I didn’t recognize that until I nearly got hooked.
Summarizing Right Hook Self-Defense
So, therefore, to avoid a right hook;
- if a car passes you just before a possible right turn, watch it carefully, both the right turn signal as well as its behaviour and positioning;
- if the car ahead of you slows (and signals) to make a right turn, don’t pass it on the right side but either pull behind the middle of it (and slow with it until it goes around the corner) or, if the lane to the left is clear, shift to the left and pass it, then return to your place after the intersection;
- stay out of a driver’s blind spot (think of it this way, unless you’re ahead of the car, you’re in its blind spot);
- at a stop, position yourself forward of the vehicle such as at the bumper or into the crosswalk or even in front of the vehicle (taking the lane) if you get there first
- wear bright colours and/or reflective gear and use bright rear lights to prevent a right hook as a result of not being sufficiently visible to the driver;
- sometimes, if the right lane is clear as I approach the intersection, I might move out into the middle of it to force cars to follow me through the intersection but I’ll tend only to do this at intersections where right turns are very common and right hooks are more likely than others;
- for the sake of courtesy, if you do take the lane, you might want to be towards the left half of the lane so as to allow the car behind you to sneak through to your right to make a right turn if they want to but don’t position yourself too far to the left of the lane or an impatient motorist might take the opportunity to pass you on the right when the light turns green;
Avoiding Left Hooks
A left hook occurs suddenly as well and I can only think of (and find) two situations in which it might occur, both of which the blame should fall on the motorist but cyclists can reduce the possibility that these will occur.
In the above image, I can imagine this might occur if it is dark and the cyclist has dark clothing, no lights and nothing reflective on their person or bike, or it might be very foggy or foggy and dark. I don’t think that all of the blame would fall on the invisible cyclist but a cyclist in these conditions should ride defensively and do whatever is necessary to be seen. However, the driver’s view may be obscured, the driver’s attention may be diverted, the driver may be under the influence of alcohol or the driver may have misjudged the cyclist’s speed believing that there was sufficient time to complete the left turn before the cyclist got to the intersection.
To reduce the chance that this might happen, you should:
- watch the behaviour of the car that is wishing to make a left turn to anticipate the possibility of a left hook;
- ensure that you are as visible as you can be considering whatever conditions there might be (i.e., lights, reflectors, bright colours) and
- be prepared to stop at a moments notice to avoid a collision.
In the above image, this is clearly an instance where the car driver’s view is partly obscured and the cyclist is, at this point, screened by the green car. What might be happening is that behind the green car is another car and the orange car wants to cross the intersection quickly before the next car arrives and in rushing to turn left in the gap between the two cars, the orange car hits the cyclist.
To reduce the chance that this might happen, you should:
- look well ahead at the intersection to see if there are any cars preparing to make a left turn, this would enable you to know that there is a car in the position of waiting to make a left turn;
- ride defensively and assertively by pulling out of the bike lane into the same lane as the green car so that you’re out of its shadow and visible to the car wanting to make the left turn, you could even move towards the left side of the same lane as the green car so that you’re even more visible;
- ensure that you are as visible as you can be considering whatever conditions there might be (i.e., lights, reflectors, bright colours).
I am fortunate so far (knock on wood, such as on this gorgeous wood-framed bike below) not to have been right or left hooked although there have been a couple of close-calls.
Being aware of potential situations like this has helped keep me safe. I hope that you are more aware of potentially dangerous situations that you might not have heard of before and armed with this knowledge, you are more likely to look for and avoid them.