The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. However, when riding in traffic, many bikers are tempted to stray from this most efficient route. A bent path can be helpful in a number of situations (to avoid an open door, turning car, or pothole), but there’s one situation where a momentary deviation is not recommended: intersections.
Instinct tells many riders to jog to the right as they pass through an intersection (as illustrated above). Potential causes include fear of getting right hooked, fear of cars passing too close as they zoom through to make a light, or a general discomfort that arises whenever the bike lanes disappear. They could also think that being in the crosswalk affords them some added protection (it doesn’t!).
Here’s the rule: when crossing a 4-way intersection, it’s a good idea to maintain as straight a course as you can.
Why is this so important in intersections? Because intersections are full of alternatives, and that means predictability is essential.
Specifically, if you zag to the right when you plan to go straight, you give drivers an impression that is the opposite of your intent.
Let’s say a driver making a left fails to yield to an oncoming biker (as required by law), and collides with her in the intersection. It’s a classic “left cross,” and given these facts, the driver would be 100% at fault for the crash.
However, instead of following a straight path through the intersection, let’s say our biker zigs to the right, as in the above illustration. If the driver hits her in this scenario, he can plausibly say that he believed that she was making a right turn. That’s sometimes all it takes to shift the blame.
The biker would almost certainly be considered liable for the crash (at least to some extent), and she’d be stuck paying for her mangled bike and medical bills as a result. All because of a little zig to the right.
So don’t let a driver’s crash become your fault. Stay on course, stay predictable, and stay safe. Your bike would be lonely without you.