When riding through an intersection with a group of other riders, is it acceptable to yell, “Clear!” as you go though to let others behind you know?
As someone who was taught the practice when I was learning to ride on the road many years ago, I was somewhat taken aback that a subset of riders are very much against it – and quite a few referenced the teaching of the League of American Bicyclists against the practice.
“When passing through an intersection, some cyclists announce “Clear!” if there is no cross traffic. This is a dangerous practice that should be abandoned.”
I also thought it would make for an interesting follow-up to quickly poll a few of RBR’s regular contributors and coaches to see what they think about the issue. Their comments follow, below.
After the array of contributor comments, I’ve finish up with a rundown on what seem to be the “commonalities” or essence of how riders approach the issue. (I think, in the end, you’ll agree that whether you’re a “clear” follower, or a “never yell clear” rider, the bedrock approach to safety is the same.) Finally, we’ll finish up with a look at the issue some raised of whether there is legal liability involved in yelling “clear.” A lawyer who specializes in cycling-related law weighs in.
Here’s what I asked the RBR contributors to respond to:
The question I’d put to you is: When you ride with anyone else (1 person or a big group) do you or the people you ride with yell “clear” at intersections? If so, why? And what are the inherent expectations of yelling clear (what do you and your fellow riders understand it to mean, really)? And if not, why not?
Dr. Alan Bragman
I began riding and racing in the 1970s in Michigan. It was common practice for those in the front to yell “clear” or “cars” to other riders. Still, you were expected to look and verify for yourself before continuing. I have lived in Atlanta for the past 33 years, and it is similar to Michigan. I have ridden with groups of riders all over the U.S. and have never found riders that fail to call out conditions to riders behind. Still, you always need to verify road conditions for yourself.
Coach Harvey Newton
I began to experience the ‘clear’ behavior about 20 years ago, on rides both in Florida and Colorado. Caught me off guard at first, but it seemed to make sense. I occasionally use this, but many of my rides are solo. Often, in a group, I simply wait to assess the situation, with no feedback.
I neither expect nor suggest that this behavior is the norm. Probably too many years riding in the era of wool jerseys and shorts, side-pull brakes, etc…. Communication on the road remains a key safety issue. Much is left to do.
The comments kind of surprised me, too, John.
I do holler “clear” when riding in a group if the intersection is safe to pass through. Most riders [in Northern California] do this, and when I lived in New England, it was done there, too. But, I always thought the clear signal was only intended for that moment; in other words, only for people closely following, NOT for any stragglers who couldn’t proceed through at the same time I was proceeding through. This seems like common sense to me. I don’t think I would ever go through an intersection – even if the guy ahead hollered “clear” – without looking to make sure it’s safe.
So, to me, I believe it’s a courtesy to yell it, but it’s up to every individual to check and make sure it’s safe. I wouldn’t expect anyone not to watch out for themselves. But, I guess you never know. In my experience, anyway, which includes many big group rides, it hasn’t been a problem.
I would also say that it’s a black hole and useless detour to get into lawyers and lawsuits, etc., etc. I don’t give a hoot about that. I do what I think keeps me safe on the road, regardless — and I think I know more about staying safe on a bicycle than the laws, police and lawyers know, too, and wouldn’t be swayed by their warning or advise, either.
Trust but Verify? What the heck does that mean?…. I would NEVER trust anyone who yelled “Clear!”. Just like I never trust anyone who tries to wave me through an intersection (when I’m in car or on bike). I always refuse to go.
I’ve seen too many “bike lemmings” on club rides — the person at the front of the group sets off across the intersection when it’s very clear that a car is coming. THEY can get across, and don’t seem to worry about anyone else. And some boneheads behind them assume it’s clear too — and follow!
When I was club president, I would tell the group at the start of the ride “All for one, and one for all, blah-blah-blah,” but that lecture usually lasted until the first intersection where I wasn’t in front. Some people just don’t THINK.
Coach Peter Wimberg
Regarding yelling ‘clear,’ while it is a courtesy, I never assume it’s OK for me to go charging through the intersection or make the turn without looking. I don’t even go through green lights without fingers on the brake lever and glancing side to side. Paranoid? I don’t feel like I am. It’s second-nature at this point. I just don’t trust drivers, especially with so many on their phones.
If I’m stoppedat a cross walk (on foot), I’ll make a quick survey of people passing who are looking at their phone. It hovers around 33% not paying any attention to where they’re going. I love to ride, and while I know I have a right to be in the road, that won’t mean a thing when I’m in long-term care recovering from a major head injury from being hit by a careless driver, or assuming someone yelling ‘clear’ assured my safety.
Around here in central N.C. it’s considered good form to call out “clear.” I had never thought of not doing it. As for being out on the road, I have a “trust but verify” policy which varies based on the group I am riding with. If it’s a group where I don’t know many of the members, I will take a second and possibly third look after someone calls clear. With my core group of friends whom I have ridden with for years, I know from past experience that I can trust them. I will look, but my head is not on the same kind of swivel. Frankly, I’d much rather ride with my core group for this and many other reasons.
Coach Fred Matheny
The usual procedure in most groups is for the lead rider to yell “Clear,” “car left,” “car right” or “stopping.” Then, as you indicated in the newsletter, it’s other riders’ responsibility to check to make sure the situation hasn’t changed by the time they get to the intersection. In other words, you’re in a group but responsible for yourself.
Like everyone else, I’ve seen situations where the lead rider doesn’t see an approaching vehicle but indicated it was clear. One way to eliminate the problem is for everyone to stop for the stop sign rather than rolling through!
Coach John Hughes
Whether to identify hazards and safe situations varies widely. In Colorado we never do that. In California, it was expected that the rider at the front of the group would point out or call out hazards … and if I failed to do so, I was criticized.
It also depends on whom you are riding with. When I was leading training rides for the Leukemia Society’s Team In Training, I called out everything. Riding with my regular riding buddy, John Emblad, we don’t bother — we’re both smart, observant riders. Although I remember Reagan’s trust but verify comment, I wouldn’t go that far except with very experienced riders with whom I’m ridden many miles.
Coach David Ertl
I agree with what others are saying. It seems to be an individual situation. Some groups I’ve ridden with expect you to call out ‘clear,’ and others don’t. Once you become familiar with a particular group, you come to know what to expect. But in every case, it is your responsibility to verify. The problem with calling out ‘clear’ is that it may give a false sense of security to other riders who may not be as attentive, or in some cases, tired. I’ve been on rides where I am barely hanging on and if someone yells ‘clear’ and I am gassed, I may just roll through without looking (even though I shouldn’t).
My preference would be not to say anything and let everyone judge for themselves. In large groups, it is common that only part of a group can get through between traffic, anyway.
It seems to me that the kernels in this are:
- The practice of yelling “clear” is, in fact, pretty widely accepted but varies from place to place.
- Those who follow the practice do so with the understanding that it remains incumbent upon each and every rider in the group to “look out for themselves” – that a “clear” call is really just a temporal courtesy from the person at the front of the group, at that particular time that they arrive at the intersection, stop sign, etc. When you get there, check for yourself. (Which is exactly the way it works in the groups I ride in: Calls of “clear” continue from the front to the back of the group as riders get to an intersection and “clear it” for themselves.)
- So, the “clear” call really means the intersection is clear for me to cross right now. It’s not meant to be a green light for others. (Just as a call of “car left” may mean there’s still time for the next few riders to safely cross before the car is close enough to be a threat. Again, though, it’s up to each rider to check for himself or herself.)
- Most of this group repeated a refrain I ride by (and taught my son last year when teaching him to drive): Expect all drivers, at all times, to do the stupidest possible thing – and be prepared for it. (Like many of you who ride in urban or suburban settings, especially, I see distracted drivers in many forms on every single ride, no exceptions. I also look both ways, repeatedly, even at green lights, and work hard to stay safe.)
- It seems that most experienced riders follow pretty much the same protocol – and that the issue of calling out “clear” is sort of courtesy window dressing. It’s still an expectation in some (maybe even most) locales, but experienced riders know exactly what it means – and how to approach the situation whether they’re in a “clear-calling” group, or a silent group.
- The best policy (if it’s possible) is to discuss the “rules of the group” before any group ride – and reinforce what any particular “calls” mean (and don’t mean). And to clearly reiterate that each rider is ultimately responsible for his or her own safety on the road.
The Issue of Liability
We’ll end this discussion by addressing the issue of legal liability in yelling “clear.” Steven Magas, The Bike Lawyer, is an Ohio trial lawyer (www.OhioBikeLawyer.com). Here’s what he has to say on the issue:
“Is there liability when a cyclist goes through an intersection and yells “clear” to another following rider? Can the Caller be liable? Can the Club/Group on an organized ride be liable? The answer is, of course, “Maybe,” and would require a very fact-specific analysis. The answer could also vary state by state. Some of the details that could impact the answer might include:
“Club Ride? Casual Ride? Organized National Ride? Race? The more “organized” the ride, the more likely, in my mind, a judge might find some liability.
“Is the “Clear” signal intended to aid other riders in violating the law? I.e., is this a mechanism for avoiding Stop Signs and Red Lights? If so, I suspect that the liability of the caller to the rider would be limited… BUT… if someone ELSE is injured, then the caller AND rider could be liable…
“For example, Rider 1 yells “Clear,” and Rider 2 runs a red light/stop sign in front of an oncoming motorist, who then drives over a sidewalk, killing a pedestrian. The pedestrian’s estate may well have a valid claim against all who participated in the illegal endeavor — Rider 1 and Rider 2 could both be liable, along with the club, if facts developed showing a pattern and practice of the club encouraging the violation of traffic laws. If Rider 2 is injured by an oncoming car, I doubt Rider 1 or the Club would face liability. We ALL have a legal duty to obey the law.
“Does the Club organizing the ride face liability for “Clear” calls? Possibly. Again, it’s a fact-specific situation. What’s the history — the set-up of the ride? How experienced were the riders/leaders? Was there a history where riders relied on other riders, or the leaders, to wave them along through potential hazards? Is there a history of calling out hazards? Is this an organized ride? Did the riders sign a waiver? Does the group routinely stop at signs or routinely and brazenly disobey the law on the “call” of people. The “duty” owed by anyone to another, or the leader/group to the rest, is not carved in stone, but would be determined by the specific facts and circumstances of the group behavior.
“My suspicion is that if the “clear” call is intended to indicate “It’s OK to violate the law, run the stop sign and keep going,” then the rider who violates the law will have a tough time arguing that the rider who called “clear” is liable… the “clear” call does not “waive” the rider’s legal duty to stop at a stop sign.
“As a practical matter, these issues are rarely tested in a legal setting in “small” cases. However, in a “big” case — one with catastrophic losses in which someone ends up killed or maimed for life, the lawyer will look for any possible legal theory to hook as many folks, and, more importantly, their insurers, as possible to pay the catastrophic costs/damages that have arisen. In a catastrophic case, everything will be explored. The club’s history, the “usual and customary” way rides are handled. The skill level of the riders, the level of reliance on the leaders, etc. All of this, and more, would get explored in a big case.”