How to Share the Road Safely with Bicyclists
As a driver, have you ever been inconvenienced by a bicyclist on the road? More than likely, you've experienced the frustration that comes with being "stuck" behind a slow-moving cyclist on a busy road—but it's important to realize that bicyclists have just as much legal right to use public roads as you do in your motor vehicle. On the flip side, bicyclists are also required to obey many of the same traffic laws (and all the same posted road signs and traffic signals) as you are.
Unfortunately, thousands of motor vehicle accidents involving bicyclists occur each year—often as a result of driver carelessness or their lack of understanding of how to safely share the road with bicyclists. As you can probably imagine, injuries related to vehicle-on-bicycle accidents can be serious and sometimes even fatal.
By having a better understanding of bicyclists' rights (and obligations) on the road, as well as following some tips on sharing the road, you can avoid causing a serious accident.
Understanding Bicyclists' Rights on the Road
Traffic laws apply not just to motor vehicles on the road, but to bicyclists as well. This means that while bicyclists have every right to be on public roads, they must also obey all traffic laws. They should be stopping at red lights and stop signs, yielding right-of-way where appropriate, and going with the flow of traffic in general. In turn, motorists should show bicyclists some respect and acknowledge that these cyclists have the right to be on the road. They're permitted to do things like turn left at an intersection (provided they follow posted traffic signals), pass slow-moving vehicles, and make legal U-turns. This comes as a surprise to many motorists (and, of course, specific laws regarding cyclists can vary from state to state).
Sharing the Road With Bicyclists
With this in mind, what steps can you begin taking to more safely share the road with cyclists that you may encounter? One of the best tips to keep in mind is to always maintain safe following distance behind a bicyclist. IYou should maintain a following distance of at least three feet on all sides of a bicyclist (and preferably much more, depending on speeds and road conditions).
Furthermore, no matter how frustrating it may seem to be stuck behind a bicyclist moving more slowly than you, it's important to be patient and pass a cyclist only when safe (and legal) to do so.
When merging, changing lanes, or passing through a crosswalk, drivers should also make it a point to do a double-take for cyclists. Looking twice only takes an extra second of your time, but it just could save a life.
Last but certainly not least, always check to either side of your vehicle before opening a car door, especially in areas where there is known to be heavy bike traffic or in areas with dedicated bike lanes. Otherwise, you could accidentally open your car door into the path of a bicyclist, causing serious bodily injury that you will likely be liable for.
What to Expect in Return
Of course, the responsibility to share the road safely doesn't fall entirely on you; there are some basic courtesies that bicyclists should follow as well. For instance, cyclists should avoid:
- using phones while driving
- using motorist lanes when bike lanes are available
- biking while intoxicated (illegal in many states)
- blocking or impeding the flow of traffic.
When both motorists and cyclists are better informed regarding the laws (and courtesies) of sharing the road, instances of serious accidents and injuries can be reduced, making the roadways safer and more enjoyable for everyone.