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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Bicycling Terminology - The Right Hook

The right hook refers to a type of car/bicycle conflict that takes place at intersections. As illustrated in the figure above, a right-turning car can turn in front of a bicycle traveling straight. If the cyclist cannot avoid running into the turning vehicle on time, a crash results.

If a bike lane is present, a right hook is still possible as shown above. Lines delineating bike lanes are supposed to be dashed around major intersections, and remain solid around minor ones. The car illustrated above did what it's not supposed to do; namely, turning from the car lane. What it should do is first merge into the bike lane, and then complete the right turn (information courtesy of Jessica Wilson, the Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator at the Tennessee Department of Transportation). Were the bike lane a road shoulder, the same conflict continues to exist, although cyclists cannot expect drivers to first merge over.

Drivers can minimize the risk of right-hooking someone by being aware of cyclists who are traveling straight, by using the right-turn signals, by merging into bike lanes before turning, and by not actually making the right turn until there are no approaching cyclists. Cyclists can minimize their chances of being right-hooked by being aware of the possibility, by watching and listening for passing (and turning) cars, and by not speeding and having properly adjusted brakes in case a car does unexpectedly turn.

The risks from right-hooks is one more reason why it's generally dangerous for cyclists to ride on sidewalks or parallel paths; on such a path, drivers have little reason to expect overtaking cyclists. Through bike lanes should not be striped to the right of right-turn lanes for this reason as well. (There are experimental exceptions at traffic signal controlled intersections, where right turns on car red are prohibited, and cyclists have their own traffic signal that turns green only when the cars have a red.) Interestingly, pedestrians don't have this problem on a sidewalk since pedestrians are able to immediately stop to avoid running into a turning car.


  1. This type of incident is not restricted to intersection activity so post is somewhat misleading.

    The best thing a cyclist can do is to always expect that the worst can happen and be more diligent than the Bubba/Bubbette.

  2. I'm not sure I follow. If there is no intersection, why'd a car turn right?

  3. Good post, Nelson. To further clarify, motorists must first yield to bicycles present in the bike lane before merging to turn right. Unfortunately, too often this is not done, thus the issue with right hooks. Here is a great article that explains the problem when bicycle lanes are improperly marked at intersections.

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