Cyclists, motorists should beware the ‘Right Hook’

Cyclists need to be wary of the “right hook,” when a vehicle pass the cyclist on the left and then makes an immediate right turn in front of the cyclist.
Cyclists need to be wary of the “right hook,” when a vehicle pass the cyclist on the left and then makes an immediate right turn in front of the cyclist. Staff file, 2001

Answers to important questions nobody has asked me yet:

Q: Halloween is coming, have you done anything scary lately?

A: I should preface this by saying “scary” is an understatement. Earlier this month I did something downright terrifying.

I went for a bike ride on my lunch break.

I usually avoid high-traffic times when I ride, but the weather was nice so I couldn’t help myself.

There are many reasons cars and cyclists sometimes make their commutes scary for each other. But I want to focus on just one here.

Cyclists often refer to it as the Right Hook and it seems nearly as prevalent as texting drivers and cyclists riding on the wrong side of the road.

What’s a Right Hook? It’s when a car passes to the left of a cyclist who’s moving in the same direction just before the driver makes a right turn across the cyclist’s path.

“I’d say it’s one of the top five issues for cyclists,” said Blake Trask, policy director for the cycling advocacy organization Washington Bikes.

It was one of the first things I warned my teenage son about when I taught him to ride on the road last summer. And we’re both glad we made it a priority.

On our first ride, less than a mile from our house, a pickup truck passed him as he coasted down a hill. From behind I saw the right-turn blinker flashing.

I screamed. My son squeezed his brakes. The truck’s driver turned right, narrowly missing him and continued on seemingly oblivious to the near disaster.

On my 22-mile lunch ride early this month I faced similar incidents on five occasions. One involved a school bus. Another involved a soccer mom piloting her van into a school parking lot.

It happens so often, experienced cyclists anticipate the Right Hook.

In the heat of the moment, it’s easy to get mad at the motorist. And who knows what (or if) they’re thinking.

“I can’t speak for them. I don’t know,” Trask said.

Here’s what I think: From the perspective of a driver in a car going 35 mph, even cyclists zipping along at 20 mph appear to be barely moving. So, they pass, signal, slow down and make their turn just about the same time the cyclist catches up at the intersection.

Regardless, it’s scary and it’s a problem that needs fixing. How?

I know many cyclists who take control of the lane before intersections, driveways and other potential problems spots so vehicles can’t pass. Yes, this pre-emptive strike is legal.

But how do you teach legions of motorists they should slow down and wait for cyclists to clear the intersection before making their turn? That it might slow them down a few seconds, but that it’s safe, proper and much less inconvenient than dealing with an accident?

Trask, who rides regularly with his children on his bike, says the best thing for cyclists to do is ride defensively.

He also sails boats and evokes boating’s “law of gross tonnage.” This means the smaller guy usually pays the biggest price, regardless of who’s right.

Trask believes the Right Hook and other issues would become less prevalent if more people rode their bikes. The more interactions motorists have with cyclists, the more likely they are to learn to ride safely around them.

“You’d think that the more cyclists there are, the more accidents and fatalities there would be,” Trask said. “But the statistics (a 2014 University of Denver study, is one example) say the opposite.”

So saddle up. Encourage friends to ride. Just beware the Right Hook.

Q: Who’s the fastest 90-year-old rower in the world?

A: Tacoma’s Burk Ketcham recently returned home from the World Masters Rowing Championships in Belgium with a pair of gold medals.

Ketcham was the oldest person in a regatta that included about 3,500 rowers ages 27 and older. While he won age group (85 and older) titles in two- and four-man boats, he had one other goal for the trip.

He wanted to beat the “young guys.”

Mission accomplished. Ketcham’s four-man crew beat a boat of young whippersnappers from Japan. The Japanese boat was racing in the same heat, but for the 80-84 age group title.

Q: How close is Puyallup’s Barbara Reid to putting a notch on her belt?

A: Reid’s efforts to name a V-shaped dip in the Mount Rainier foothills took a big step forward earlier this month when her proposal was approved by the Washington State Committee on Geographic Names.

Reid proposed the path cut through the foothills by the Puyallup and Mowich rivers east of the mountain be named Vancouver Notch. She found a reference to the unnamed feature in Capt. George Vancouver’s 1792 journals.

The proposal now moves on to the Board of Natural Resources for final approval later this year. From there it will be submitted to the national database for approval that will make Vancouver Notch available for mapping.

“What a wonderful day …,” Reid said via email. “One for the history books.”

Name proposals also were approved for a creek (Cooper Creek) in Jefferson County and a pond (Wildcat Pond) in McCleary.

The committee also received three new proposals, including a creek near Rochester. Rob Shaner of Littlerock proposes naming the creek Shaner Creek in honor of his father, Melvin Shaner. The family owns the property and has long referred to the creek by the proposed named.

The 1.5-mile creek flows into the Black River.