Control and Release – What’s It All About
By Michael N Katz Esq. Safety and Legislation Coordinator
For some, the notion of “Control and Release” may conjure up scenes from “50 Shades of Grey” and if that’s the direction in which your mind is wandering, I suspect you’ll be disappointed by what follows. But joking aside, the concept of “control and release” plays a vital role in enhancing the safety of cyclists on the road. So what’s it all about?
At its core, it’s all about taking affirmative, active responsibility for your safety on the road by using lane positioning to proactively create a safe ride environment rather than being passive and responding reactively as conditions are thrust upon you. It involves constantly assessing road and traffic conditions and riding in a way that balances controlling the behavior of drivers through lane positioning to serve your legitimate safety concerns while recognizing and accommodating the desire of drivers to proceed unencumbered by your slower speeds when it is safe for you to do so. It is the antithesis of the almost autonomic nervous system mentality of “Car back, move to the right” that we hear on so many group rides that is counter-productive to safety. It replaces the Pavlovian reactions to the words “car back” with a measured, thoughtful cognitive response based on prevailing road and traffic conditions and what will best serve your safety. Ok, so enough psycho-babble, in practice what does that mean.
Let’s take a real world situation based on my first two messages. You are riding down the road in your lane of travel where the law says you have the right to be. A car approaches from the rear. There is no wide, improved shoulder. You remain in the lane, not moving to the right with a knee jerk “car back” response, so that you are clearly visible to the car and the driver knows he cannot pass you unless the oncoming lane is clear and he moves into it to pass. You have “controlled” the lane because your active assessment of the road conditions has caused you to conclude that your safety so required. Now the road widens and there is a wide, improved unobstructed shoulder without traffic entering from the right. You actively assess the road conditions and conclude that you can move to the right and allow the car to pass you within the lane. You “release” the lane. Even though the law says you could have remained in the lane of travel, you relinquished that right to accommodate the car based on your assessment that it was safe to do so. It’s a dynamic process but one that you “drive” and control based on your assessment of what is safe under the prevailing conditions. It’s within the structure of what the law provides, sensibly balances the competing interests of cyclists and cars on the road but always gives paramount weight to what will best serve your safety concerns.
The practice of “control and release” is easy to apply if it’s just you or a couple of riders. But what do you do if you are on a group ride with 15-20 riders like so many of our club rides. In such circumstances, it becomes problematic because if you control the lane as a group, the time that it takes for a car to pass in the oncoming lane becomes risky or impossible and the length of the group may cause a driver to accelerate unsafely to rush past only to have to dive back in. So do you abandon “control and release”? No, instead, alter your group behavior. Break your group into sub-groups and create a gap of a few car lengths between each sub-group so that you can continue to control the lane but a car can safely pass in the oncoming lane, pull back in and repeat.
With this and my prior two messages, I think we now have the framework for a discussion about a uniform Club group ride policy and guidelines for Ride Leaders. Let’s hear back from all of you, the members, so that the EC can take up this issue with good membership input.