Whether you are in a car or on a bike, intersections are among the
most dangerous places on the road. Irrespective of who is at fault,
as a biker you are at greater risk at intersections than any other
The most obvious risk is that another vehicle will violate your
right of way by ignoring a STOP sign or red traffic light. As always
when you’re riding a bike, defensive driving is your best safety
mechanism. Slow down for every intersection, even if the traffic
light is green for you, or the STOP sign is for the crossing road.
My favourite riding safety advice applies: “Hope for the best but
prepare for the worst.” Assume that every vehicle you see will do
something that will endanger you, and be prepared to take evasive
This includes checking your rear view mirrors to ensure that, should
you suddenly have to brake hard, the vehicle behind you is far
enough to slow down without hitting you. If he isn’t, my suggestion
is to slow down gradually – nine times out of ten, the driver behind
you will become impatient and overtake you if you’re going too slow.
There’s no shame in letting him pass you – he’s less of a danger in
front of you where you can keep an eye on him. Slowing down for
every intersection may be tedious, but so is spending months in
One of the sad facts of driving in South Africa is that some people
tend to ignore road markings. Consider this: you’re in the
right-hand lane on a multi-lane road, your lane is discretionary
(you can either turn or go straight), and the lane on your left is a
compulsory turn-lane. It often happens that a car in the left lane
will go straight across the intersection, despite the road markings
(left-hand image below).
If you want to turn left, make sure that the cars on your left are
also turning. I prefer to rather turn from the leftmost lane – after
all, I have enough acceleration to get into the correct lane after I
have turned. Likewise, you could have the situation of the leftmost
lane being discretionary, and a car in the right-hand lane wanting
to turn while you intend not to turn
(right-hand image below).
This could result in the car (which has slowed down for the turn)
cutting in front of you, or colliding with you.
Remember that at a STOP sign, the vehicle which has stopped first
has right of way, even if he intends to turn. So, if the oncoming
car has stopped before you and wants to turn, you have to wait for
him to turn before you pull off. Unfortunately many road users seem
not to know this rule – if you want to turn and you have stopped
first, they (wanting to go straight across) will often pull off
under the assumption that they have the right of way. Again, in the
spirit of defensive riding, rather let them go than try to force the
issue at the risk of a collision.
Oncoming cars turning across your lane at traffic lights are also a
potential risk. Car drivers often assume there is enough time for
them to cross before you get to the intersection, and to be fair to
them, it is hard to judge a bike’s speed head-on. So again the key
is to assume the car will cross and have your evasion plan ready in
case he does. This includes ensuring that you can safely brake hard
if needed, being aware of any traffic around you that might prevent
you from swerving, and identifying your escape route beforehand.
“Blind” intersections are especially perilous. I consider an
intersection “blind” when a truck, minibus, SUV or any other tall
vehicle or object prevents me from seeing the entire intersection.
Take the scenario from the previous paragraph and a truck on your
right, and now you have a disaster waiting to happen. The
light-shaded area in the illustration
represents your field of vision. The driver of the yellow car, who
can’t see you either, may believe the road is clear and turn. In a
situation like this, where you can’t see past the truck, assume
there’s a car just itching to turn and spoil your day. My advice is
to slow down and (if the traffic allows it) move to the extreme left
to increase your field of view around the truck. Keep going slowly
until you’ve verified that no car is about to turn.
Considering that most accidents happen at intersections, it is
obvious why bikers should consider them extremely dangerous. Always
approach intersections with caution, try to predict what other road
users are going to do, and rather yield to offending cars than risk
getting yourself killed. The ultimate aim of biking should not be to
prove your point at all costs, but to live to ride another day.