You might be asking yourself how yielding to a cyclist could be illegal much less a bad thing to do but it is most definitely both. I am out riding on the roads on my road bike every weekend and at least several times a month the following scenario happens to me...
I am signaling to turn left onto a residential street and there is a car approaching me in the oncoming lane of traffic to my left. They see me signaling to turn left so they stop in the middle of traffic to allow me turn left in front of them while they wait.
Diagram showing me turning left when an oncoming car is stopped and attempting to yield to me (base image from hackerspace.kinja.com and then annotated by me)
Legally I have to yield right of way to the car but they are trying to do what they think is a kind gesture. Unfortunately I can't take advantage of this gesture of kindness. I have to nod my head no, stop in the middle of the road and wait for the car to proceed in confusion. Here is why this is such a dangerous situation for me...
As a cyclist my best defense on the road is to be as predictable as possible. That means following traffic laws...all of them. In the situation I just described above I have to yield to oncoming traffic when I turn left. When a car decides to yield to me (instead of me yielding to it) it does several things that put me in danger.
1) It confuses any cars that may be behind me in traffic. Remember, this is a very large and heavy vehicle that is traveling behind me. I don't want the driver of that car to be confused about what I am doing. I have already been signaling that I am preparing to turn left. So the car behind me is expecting me to yield to oncoming traffic (which means slowing down and sometimes coming to a complete stop) and to turn left. What if the car behind me is also turning left? Will they also try to turn in front of the same car? Maybe they will ride very close to me to try and squeeze through with me? These are all very non-standard activities which put me at risk.
2) The car that has stopped in the middle of the road to yield to me at the intersection has now confused any cars behind them. Most cars that see a car in front of them slowing down or stopping at a residential intersection assume the car is going to turn (regardless of whether the car has a turn signal on or not since it is common for people to not use them). Or even worse, they assume the driver of the car is lost or confused. Either way, the car approaching behind the car that is attempting to yield to me is now more likely to simply go around this stopped car instead of stopping behind it. If I were in the process of turning left when they went around the stopped car they would hit me before they even saw I was there.
3) Liability. If I turn left in front of an oncoming car in this situation I am now at fault for anything that happens anywhere in the vicinity. I have failed to yield to oncoming traffic and am therefore responsible for any accidents that may occur because of the situation.
So if you have done the act of kindness I describe above for a cyclist on the road first let me thank you for the kind gesture. Cyclists really do appreciate it when cars go out of their way to try and make things safe for them. But in this situation I simply can't take advantage of the act of kindness. I wish I could stop in the middle of road and explain to every driver that does this why this is such a dangerous situation for me, but stopping in the middle of the road to chat is also dangerous. So I am writing the blog post instead. So if you see me out on the road there is one thing you can do that will help keep me safe...treat me like any other vehicle on the road. It is what other cars are used to seeing and it causes the least amount of confusion (making my actions on the road as predictable as possible).