I've been saddened by the rash of traffic accidents that resulted in fatalities for bicyclists in PDX. I've also been saddened by the rude, judgemental finger pointing coming from both bicyclists and car & truck drivers. Everyone is pointing fingers at the other guy.
Well guess what, all you finger pointers? No matter who is at fault in these tragic accidents, they were, in my opinion, entirely preventable, even from the innocent party's point of view!
Rule number one in defensive driving: Do NOT ever trust the other driver/bicyclist. Ever. Assume the worst. Pay attention, and assume the other guy WILL do something wrong/illegal. Stop signs and red traffic lights don't physically stop any vehicle. Not cars. Not trucks. Not bikes. Just because a vehicle is signaling for a turn doesn't mean they'll turn. Just because a vehicle isn't signaling for a turn doesn't mean they aren't going to turn in front of you. Just because you see them doesn't mean they can see you.
Rule number two: All things being equal, even if you have the legal right of way, the biggest vehicle ALWAYS has the "it's a jungle out there" right of way. Vehicles that ignore your legal right of way also ALWAYS have the "jungle" right of way. You can't control the other driver/bicyclists' actions, but you CAN control your own actions! Yield even when you shouldn't have to! Be safe! Pay attention and stay alive!
Rule number three: Never, ever ever change lanes in an intersection. You already have to look out for cross traffic, why complicate your awareness load by worrying about some jerk coming behind you in your blind spot?
Rule number four: Watch out ahead of you! Especially watch out for sudden lane changes of vehicles that might cut you off at intersections, retail shop parking lots, or freeway off-ramps.
Rule number five: While this might be difficult for bicyclists that are going slower than other traffic, try your best to keep a "space bubble" around you as you go down the road. It's nice to have somewhere you can swerve to in case someone cuts you off. Don't change lanes constantly. Blend in with traffic.
Rule number six: Pay attention! Don't distract yourself. Don't drive and use a cell phone. Don't text message. Don't eat, put on makeup, read the newspaper, or try to smack your kids in the back seat. You are driving a lethal weapon, not sitting in your barcolounger at home. Bicyclists: Lose the headphones! Keep both hands on those handlebars! If you're on a busy street, don't just dream- cruise as if you're on a bikes only path. If you're drafting, don't trust the bikes in front of you to pay attention! YOU pay attention, too, to what's going on up the road!
Rule number seven: Don't drive or bicycle if you're tired, or upset, or distracted by thoughts of your daily life. Pay attention to what you're doing! Going on mental autopilot will get you in trouble fast!
Rule number eight: VERY important rule! Stay the heck out of those "suicide lanes", aka the two-way center turn lane! You WILL get nailed eventually if you use those suckers! It's better to turn right and find a traffic light or stop sign to make a safer way to go in the direction you want to go.
Rule number nine: Develop your "sixth sense" of probable idiotic behavior by those other folks out there.
Rule number ten: for car/truck drivers. PLEASE give bikes on the road a wide berth. You can make a mistake and only get a fender scrape, but your mistake will probably severely injure or kill the bicyclist. If you're stopped for a light and you saw a bicyclist somewhere "back there", Be extra, extra careful! Try to make visual contact if you're about to turn right! Screw the driver behind you if they start that honking garbage. Count one thousand one one thousand two when the light changes to green. Not only will you reduce your chances of being hit be a cross traffic red light runner, your probability of visually spotting "that bike back there" increases significantly. Two seconds! one thousand one, one thousand two! Two seconds could save your life or someone else's!
As a 100% bicyclist as a youngster in Eugene, I learned the hard way about not biking defensively. I ran into car doors that suddenly opened in front of me because I didn't take a wide berth. I was hit, or hit by cars that cut me off with no warning, luckily with only scrapes and banged up bike rims or frames as souvenirs. I collided once with a parked car because I was daydreaming. That one hurt! But I learned. All of those mishaps could have been avoided be ME. Even the ones that were caused by the idiocy of the other guy, not me. Because I should have anticipated their idiocy. That's what defensive bicycling/driving is all about.
I've been involved in only one traffic accident in over twenty years. I don't put in much mileage on the bike anymore, but I drive a LOT! If I had to guess, that's probably one accident in 350,000 or so miles. Because I drive defensively. The only accident I've had in that time period was while driving a U-haul truck in a 35mph zone on East Burnside and getting rear-ended by an idiot who was racing someone else going 80-90mph. He locked his brakes and I watched him skid for a good three seconds before he slammed into the back of the U-haul. I had nowhere to go. I was going 30 mph when he hit me. The U-haul was undamaged. The idiot's car was totalled. Thank goodness no one was injured. His skid marks were at least 150 feet long. I can only imagine what might have happened if I were in a car and not a U-haul.
I'm glad I went back later to take pictures of the accident scene and the long skid marks. Because the idiot and his insurance company sued me. The idiot lied to his insurance rep. and said I cut him off and he hit the side of the U-haul. You should have seen the stunned look on the idiot's insurance rep. at the mandatory mediation session when I showed the pictures to the insurance rep. The rep turned to his client and said, "are those your skid marks?". The idiot said, duhh....yes.... case dismissed.
I'm not saying you'll never get in an accident if you drive/ride defensively. A very small chance exists that an accident is unavoidable. But take my advice. Drive/ride defensively. It's been said many times but it's worth repeating. Insist on your right of way at your own peril. You may be right, but you could be killed. Be safe. Yield to the idiots even if you have the right of way.
Because it's a jungle out there.