As motorcar use increased, motorists found equitable,
non-motorized use of the street to be a hindrance.
are for motor vehicles: in fact roads are still for moving people and motor
vehicles are but one type of conveyance by which people move. Slow vehicles are
unsafe: most enforcement officers know that speed kills, however, a perception
has developed that vehicles that are slower than other traffic create a hazard;
in truth, slower is still safer.
“right” of speed: many people believe that you can’t use the road if you can’t keep
up. If a heavily loaded truck is unable to accelerate from an intersection or
up a hill, most motorists understand and merely tolerate it or pass it when
they are able. Yet if the vehicle is a bicycle, intolerance and outrage
develops in some drivers. As with all slow moving vehicles, bikes must use the
right lane unless they are preparing for a left turn, but despite common
misconceptions they still have a right to the roadway.
is safest for bicyclists to stay out of the way: This myth has sadly
contributed to the majority of crashes and near misses cyclists experience.
Hugging the edge of the road is actually dangerous for a number of
lanes make cycling safer: In fact, bike lanes were created because of the myth
listed above and the desire for a separate space. Bike lanes force cyclists to
ride on the edge, sometimes even in the “door zone” of parked cars, where they
might be directly hit or startled into swerving in front of traffic. Channeling
bicyclists to the right of other traffic encourages them to be unpredictable —
unexpectedly passing slower traffic on the right. When cyclists are forced to
ride on the edge of the roadway conflicts arise at intersections and driveways
– the most common location of bicycle/motorist crashes. There the cyclist’s
position conflicts with turning cars — thru cyclists are to the right of
right-turning vehicles and are often screened from the view of drivers turning
paths are safest for cyclists: Since paths fall outside the scope of traffic
laws, behavior on them is unregulated, unpredictable and unenforceable.
Conflicts and crashes increase at intersections. Unlike roads, paths don’t go
everywhere people need or want to go.
riding in the middle of the traffic lane will impede traffic: where “impeding”
laws exist nearly all clearly state that only drivers of motor vehicles can
illegally impede. In the six states where the law does not specifically exclude
non-motorized vehicles, it provides for the reasonable speed of the vehicle in
question, thus accommodating farm tractors, horse carriages and bicycles. Why
is it cyclists are being cited for “impeding” when they are actually driving
defensively and in a manner reasonable for their vehicle?
In every state, bicycles are either defined in statutes as a
vehicle or cyclists are given the same rights and responsibilities as other
Most states require cyclists to ride “as far to the right
(FTR) as practicable to the right hand curb or edge of the roadway.”
Many statutes list specific reasons why cyclists need to ride farther left
within a lane.
More experienced cyclists choose to “control the lane.” By
using a large portion of the lane, cyclists send a clear message to motorists
that they must change lanes to pass when safe and legal to do so.
Substandard Width Lanes
It may shock many to learn that a 12-foot wide lane is
considered a “substandard width” for the purpose of this statute. Federal
roadway design standards suggest a cyclist needs a minimum of 4 feet of operating
All states require safe passing clearance between vehicles
of any type.
Most passenger cars are roughly 6-feet wide, with mirrors
adding another foot. As we’d expect a car takes up more than half of a 12 foot
Today’s traffic includes a high percentage of large vehicles
like pickups and SUVs that are even wider than conventional passenger
What Laws Should You Enforce?
Traffic laws reflect the rules of safe and predictable
movement. These apply to cyclists as they do to motorists.
Cyclists are required to travel the same direction as
traffic, yet many cyclists are commonly seen riding facing traffic.
The major violations which cyclist should be stopped and
ticketed for are, 1) riding against traffic, 2) failure to yield right of way
at stop or yield signs, 3) running red lights and 4) riding without required
We need to stop cyclists for disobeying traffic
The major violations by motorists that endanger bicyclists
are, 1) failure to yield right of way, 2) unsafe passing, 3) harassment or
assault and 4) inattentive or impaired driving.
By law, cyclists always have the right of first come, first
served in the lane that they are occupying. Vehicles can’t legally intrude into
their path, or pass them, unless it is safe to do so.
Seeing and treating cyclists as an expected and respected
part of traffic will undoubtedly be a new idea for many police officers and
Kirby Beck is retired after 28 years with the Coon Rapids, Minn. Police. He is a certified IPMBA police cyclist instructor trainer. He is an expert witness in bicycle crash cases. He can be reached at Kirby@kbeckconsulting.com.
Published in Law and Order, Jul 2013