Cyclists See Clearly
A great concern of my family and friends is for my safety when commuting by bike. You're just out there, all by yourself, they say. It's true, I have forsaken the steel cage, seatbelts and airbags of an automobile. But those are all protections for a driver after a collision has occured. Wouldn't it be better to avoid a colision altogether?
While there is certainly less crash protection on a bicycle, it's not a total loss, there are also safety advantages. Sometimes I get in a car and I'm shocked at how much of my vision is obscured by the window pillars, dashboard, rain on the glass, etc.
Insurance companies recognize even a tiny little rock chip in your window as a safety hazard, and will quickly pay for an entire windshield replacement to reduce the odds that you will get in an accident and file a bigger claim. What about all that other stuff blocking your view? Would you even notice a rock chip on this car?
These panorama photos were taken within seconds of eachother at the same intersection on a typical morning in Seattle. One from inside the car, one from right next to the car, as a cyclist would see it. Click on the images and "look around" - scroll left and right as if turning your head. Which of these, the driver or the cyclist, can better tell if someone is careening through the intersection from that side street on the right or pulling out of a hidden driveway? Who can better see a person on the crosswalk, an animal or a patch of ice directly in front of them?
Other situations where cyclists see more
1. Backing out of a driveway - Backing out of the driveway, You can only hope that by moving slowly you are allowing any passing cars, dogs, cyclists or pedestrians time to get out of the way or stop. God knows you can't see them coming. Pray for safety?
2. Uncontrolled intersections - Uncontrolled, four-way intersections are a frequent place of collisions, and it's easy to see why. The so-called A-pillars, which hold up the roof of your car at the sides of the windshield, seem engineered specifically to block a driver's view of cars on intersecting streets. It's like a little game.... you don't get to see if there's a car coming until it is almost too late. Are you quick on the brakes?
3. Unmarked crosswalks - This is pretty much anywhere and everywhere. You have to try quite actively to make sure you are constantly looking for every knucklehead that might pop out from between parked cars. Add a frosty or rain-speckled windshield and they are nearly impossible to see until they are right in front of you.
In all these cases and many variations, a bicyclist's view is completely unobscured. This goes a long way to help me avoid killing my fellow humans. There is also quite a lot to be said about my increased capacity for self preservation, as you can imagine. I can see them coming. And in most cases, I can hear them too - there's a lot to be said for that as well!
We assume that in a "driving" situation there must be some kind of windshield, glasses, goggles, or something obscuring the rider's view, but there is simply nothing there. Only a person in the rain, with their eyes open.
Driving a car makes me feel like I am looking at the world through the viewfinder of a camera - and all while I am piloting a heavy machine around which is capable of crushing people. When I'm stopped at an intersection on my bike, and I realize just how much more of the world I can see and hear, I feel desperately claustrophobic at the thought of getting back into a car.