Avoiding the Right Hook

Avoiding Right Hook conflict with turning carsIt’s called the RIGHT HOOK, and it’s one of the most startling and infuriating conflicts that cyclists experience. The Right Hook conflict occurs when a motorist makes a right turn directly in front of you, cutting you off. It’s particularly surprising because it seems like the driver should have seen you – for cryin’ out loud! He just passed right by you!!

From a technical standpoint, the driver has violated your right-of-way. From a legal standpoint, he’s probably violated regs by not allowing enough space after passing. Though the mistake may be his, fear of the Right Hook is preventing you from enjoying your use of the road. Let’s unravel the dynamics of this hazard so that it no longer takes you by surprise.

“I have only had one close call lately where a cab almost right hooked me. They weren’t using their blinker and I probably should have anticipated the turn and left more space.” — Clair

Reading their intentions
Yeah, turn signals would be great, but roadway BODY LANGUAGE speaks louder if you’re attuned to it. So, as I’m approaching a Right Turning Intersection, if a car passes me rapidly, or moves in front of me and then slows, or moves right quickly from the middle of the road; all of these things cue me that he’s thinking “make a right”.

Why do they do it?!
So, I’m the motorist,  approaching the street for my turn and there’s a cyclist mid-block. I have only a second to read the situation. If the cyclist is near the edge of the road, if she is not reacting to my approach, if she seems to be going slower than I am, I’m probably going to accelerate past her and make my turn. At motorist speeds, cyclists seem to be standing still, so once my nose has passed the bike, she’s out of my “Zone of Concern”. Right or wrong, that’s the view from behind the wheel.

Avoiding Right Hook conflict with turning cars

The 3 stages of Driver’s Denial
1. “It’s not a problem”
2. “It’s not MY problem”
3. “What !#*%! was that?”

I’d also add, that after making thousands of right turns in their driving lives, motorists have never needed to check the narrow space to their right before turning.  Which is a good transition to how cyclists can change the dynamic.

Get involved. Taking Charge
First of all, approach every Right Turning Intersection with a scan over your left shoulder. THIS VERY ACT informs approaching drivers that some interaction is taking place. Make eye contact if possible – there’s something primal about having someone look directly at you – it absolutely gets your attention.

Bicycle communicating with traffic

Scan back for approaching cars. As the lead vehicle, you have the right-of-way going into the intersection. But you’ve got to make your intentions known

Someone has to take charge here, and this is your chance to exercise the “Assertive” aspect of your roadway personality. Look back, Signal, and negotiate to take the lane. When you’ve been acknowledged, gently start to slide Left. Confirm once more, then PEDAL! GO! The very act of pedaling Communicates your intention – you intend to enter the intersection first!

Avoiding Right Hook conflict with turning cars

Your eye contact and hand signal have been acknowledged. PEDAL!

If the car pulls in behind you and slows, with his blinker on (easy to see if you’re wearing a helmet mounted mirror) you can move all the way left and encourage him, with a hand gesture, to pass you on your Right to complete his turn. I’ve never had anyone object to this exchange, and I believe that drivers find it reassuring when a cyclist actively works to facilitate a smooth interaction.

Bicycle cooperating with cars

Avoiding Right Hook conflict with turning cars

Anticipate – Communicate – Cooperate!

EVERY intersection is a potential friction point and it’s here that we get to exercise our most active, engaged, and communicative technique.

Bicycle Position for Visibility in Traffic

Every intersection requires a look back. Choose a path through the intersection that increases VISIBILITY to ALL traffic and reduces risk of the Right Hook.

Evasive Maneuvers!
Finally, there’s the less-scary-than-it-sounds, “Emergency Quick Turn”. If for some reason, you get stuck in the “Hook-Zone”, keep this in mind.  If you’re paying attention to the behavior of cars around you, their right turns come as no surprise. I get ready, and if indeed they do turn right,  I simply turn right too. I’ve done this a dozen times. The League teaches the Quick Turn as a parking lot skill, and it is nice if you’ve tried it in a practice environment.

Bicycle Emergency Quick Turn

The “Emergency Quick-Turn” – Learn to do it correctly in League / VirtuousBicycle parking lot classes.

Gaining their Respect
One last word on an important underlying premise of this, and of several of my posts – that premise being; when you seek to interact and assert control in traffic, you will be both seen and respected. It’s a subject for another post, but here’s the conclusion you’ll read when that post is written: Motorists make a quick “read” of cyclists based on a number of factors including; your level of involvement, your apparent knowledge of traffic rules, your ability to control your bike, and your readiness to interact with traffic. Among the tools you have to influence these perceptions, the one they can read and comprehend from the furthest distance away is High Visibility clothing and accessories. Use of Hi-Vis presents you as a roadway user and is your first communication with drivers. If you’ve tried taking the lane but didn’t get the respect you deserve, try it again wearing a Hi-Vis traffic vest. Let me know if you don’t agree that it makes a 100% difference.



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    • Paul Weeks (@pfweeks) on July 13, 2015 at 1:18 pm

    Nice job Lance! These are exactly the techniques I use on a daily basis. With my helmet mounted mirror I am never surprised by a would-be right hook. I find on a faster road I can identify a right-hooker a long distance back. Most passing vehicles will maintain their line and either maintain their speed or slow down before passing you. A right-hooker, OTOH, will move out of line earlier and noticeably accelerate. As soon as I see that early move left, I start moving left and accelerating myself. Another thing: Amazingly, drivers who do this either do not signal at all or do not signal until they are in the act of turning right. They seem to *never* signal early! As soon as I move left and accelerate they usually get off the gas and turn in behind me. That’s when I see them signal only when they are already turning or not signal at all, about 50/50 here in Massachusetts. Only non-right-hookers signal early.

    • ianbrettcooper on November 8, 2013 at 7:11 pm

    Hi Lance. Good article. You wrote:

    “From a technical standpoint, the driver has violated your right-of-way. From a legal standpoint, he’s probably violated regs by not allowing enough space after passing.”

    Violating priority (AKA right of way) is not just technical – it’s also a legal breach – it can result in a ‘failure to yield’ citation.

    A better solution is to simply control the lane both before and during the approach to the intersection, and while going through it, and thereafter. This is specifically permitted in most states due to the common “cyclists may use the full lane if the lane is too narrow for a bicycle and another vehicle to safely share the lane” statute (very few roads have enough room). It is essential given the situation in the diagrams above, since there are parked cars on the curbside. No cyclist should ever cycle within 6ft of a parked car, because of the potential for ‘doorings’.

    So just occupy the lane. That way, cars must change lanes to overtake, making them think twice about overtaking and turning right, and giving you far more room to maneuver.

    • anonymous on July 11, 2013 at 1:05 am

    I live in Switzerland, and am taking my driving test soon, this is actually one of the most frequently drilled aspects. Here the approach is vastly different, the onus is on the motorist. When making a right turn, you must check for cyclists including, your blind spot. move across, so that the cyclist cannot pass you. recheck your blind spot and only then turn

  1. Nice short video highlighting the same Right Hook concepts: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=atMouGGXmmc

  2. Hi Paul, thanks for the comment.

    If I understand you correctly, for the motorist, the very act of passing (moving Left) can conflict with proper preparation for the turn (merging Right). Clearly he can’t do both at the same time.

    Alternatively, the motorist can merge Right behind the cyclist, or, if he can complete a safe pass early enough, he properly merges Right ahead of the cyclist and makes a legal turn.

    Yes, I believe you’ve hit it on the head – if the motorist does not use one of these two correct maneuvers, the result is the Right Hook! (the turn being made without the merge behind or ahead of the cyclist)

    As the diagrams show, the cyclist can assert influence over the motorist’s approach. By negotiating a lane change to his Left, the cyclist channels the car to merge Right. Of course, if the intersection were still some distance off, the cyclist might encourage this particular vehicle to pass, and then, follow the arc out through the intersection, behind, not in front of, the turning motorist.


  3. Nice graphics and good descriptions. I just wanted to clarify the legal situation.

    There are two laws that the right-turning motorist must follow:
    1. Merge to the right-most part of the road, including into the bike lane if any, in advance of making the turn (not during the turn).
    2. Signal the intention to turn.

    The motorist who wants to pass a bicyclist must do so at a safe distance to the left, and not return to the right until safely passed.

    So you can see that a motorist can either pass a bicyclist safely and legally, or prepare a safe and legal right turn, but not do both at the same time.

    • Melissa Summers on December 4, 2012 at 12:42 pm

    Great article! I’ve enjoyed reading all your entries so far. The more educated bikers get, the better. Thanks!

Had a good experience with VB? Your honest feedback is so important - please comment! - See you out there, Lance