Life from an outsider's perspective…

The right way to overtake cyclists in Spain

Give cyclists 1 full metre of space while overtakingWouldn’t it be great if we all had top-down radar view of all oncoming traffic in our cars just like they have in those little learning to drive manuals? That way we could effectively ‘see’ around corners and we could drive accordingly. It’d also come in extremely handy when parking wouldn’t it? Well until it arrives, here’s my advice: if you can’t see around a blind corner, don’t risk any fucking insane overtaking manoeuvres!

Yes of course you’re supposed to give cyclists a full metre or more of space when overtaking. Here in Spain, it’s the law. Now here’s the catch:

Unlike somewhere like Australia where the continuous white and double white lines are seen as some kind of imaginary vertical wall which can and will not be traversed under any circumstances, you are in fact allowed to cross this line in Spain under ‘special conditions’. One of these conditions is overtaking cyclists, with the proviso that you can see what is coming and you’re not endangering either the cyclist or oncoming traffic. So to put it simply, yes you can legally wander into the oncoming lane – but only when it’s safe to do so. Do I even need to spell out that “safety is never guaranteed around corners”? That is why you’ll see drivers in Tenerife patiently waiting there turn to overtake cyclists. They only do it on the straight & level bits of road (i.e. not on the crest of a hill where you can’t see anything either). SO IF YOU FIND YOURSELF ON THE OPPOSITE SIDE OF THE ROAD AND YOU HAVE AN ACCIDENT AS A RESULT OF BEING THERE, IT’S YOUR FAULT. YOU CAUSED THE POTENTIALLY FATAL HEAD-ON COLLISION. NOTHING MORE REALLY NEEDS TO BE SAID. Why? Because driving safely is all about being predictable. And, for example, meeting an oncoming car in the wrong lane, not just anywhere, but at the apex of blind corner is not really very predictable. Is it?

It sounds pretty simple, right? Not for some…

This morning I was driving back from the South of Tenerife after delivering a few bikes in Vilaflor. As it was such a nice day, I decided to take the route over the top of the island, through Las Cañadas, past El Teide and down in to La Orotava (rather than the boring TF1 highway which I’m all too familiar with).

To cut a long story short, I drive approximately 1000km per week all over this island. I actually learned how to drive here. I like to think of myself as an experienced driver (I’m now 35). Anyway, last Saturday morning I nearly had three accidents all within about 10 minutes of one another (well, okay, two were emergency stops and the other wasn’t).

  1. This first was a bus that came careening around a blind bend in my lane. Not much we can do about that, as there is just no where for them to go (just a warning to fellow cyclists when descending – don’t hug the centre line for this reason). Normally the local custom is for both car and bus drivers to slow down and negotiate the turn. Not this one. He just came flying around a bend and all I could do was brake hard and come to a dead stop. To the left was a cliff-like wall, to the right was a fairly big drop into a lovely rocky canyon. I am pretty sure it was this corner. Ironically, it isn’t even that much of a bend as far as Tenerife is concerned (therefore a deceptively dangerous one).
  2. Now I come to the other two ‘incidents’. Both involved cyclists climbing up Mt Teide. Both involved cars overtaking them around bends. Both involved me coming along the other way. The first very near-miss happened so fast all I saw was a blue streak of a car jutting back in front of the cyclist right at the apex of a blind bend. Suffice it to say that I’m glad I upgraded my van’s brakes to braided lines… even the cyclist rolled his eyes as we both continued in opposite directions. There was absolutely no time to see anything, just enough time to react, much less get his numberplate. I don’t recall the exact corner where this took place. I was in too much shock to take in my surroundings.
  3. Finally the last one I include just for effect. The icing on the cake so to speak. By this time I was pretty edgy and my foot was already on the brake pedal. This was yet another impatient driver, once again overtaking a cyclist around a bend. But it was one of those multiple snakey bends where you can see what is coming (to a limited degree). Still, I wouldn’t have risked it, because you never know what’s coming in the opposite direction. At least this guy was much slower than the one before, having just initiated his overtaking manouvre right before the bend. Still, sure enough, I had to slow down significantly which shouldn’t be the case. And if I hadn’t have slowed quite so much the instant I saw him, he would have found himself in the embarassing situation of being schmack bang in the middle of my lane, staring at the bonnet of 2 tonne van with no where to go.

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