If you’re a driver, you know that strange mixture of guilt and frustration that comes with sharing the road with cyclists. You don’t want to appear environmentally unfriendly, but you also don’t want to be late for work and the cyclist up ahead seems to be hogging the road.
The tension between drivers and cyclists is undeniable. A quick Internet search will reveal heated arguments between drivers and cyclists on the proper way to use the road. It seems as if our personalities drastically change depending on if we are behind wheels or handlebars.
In fact, the first recorded automobile accident was recorded in New York when a car hit a bicycle. Since then, the number of motorists and cyclists has drastically increased, leading to a rise in automobile-bicycle collisions.
According to the Washington Post, “the number of people commuting by bike is estimated to have increased by 43 percent since 2000.”
If you live in a city, the number of cyclists on the road seems to be increasing exponentially. Although bike lanes help with the problem, they must be supplemented with some rules for both drivers and cyclists. Traffic rules for both drivers and cyclists improve safety for everyone.
Whether you hate them or love them, cyclists have certain rights to the road. Also, keep in mind that if they weren’t riding a bicycle, they would probably be in a car contributing to the traffic and congestion around you.
How Drivers Should Share the Road with Cyclists
These driving tips are based off of Tennessee law, although most states have similar traffic laws relating to bicycles:
- In Tennessee and most other states, a bicycle has the legal status of a “vehicle.” They have the same legal right to be on the road as vehicle drivers.
- Cyclists are supposed to ride on the right side of the road and obey all traffic signs and signals.
- All drivers should pay extra attention to cyclists, operating the vehicle at safe speeds, keeping careful lookout, maintaining full control and attention, and leaving plenty of room when passing. Unsafe passing of a cyclists is considered a violation of due care; and if the violation results in an injury, it’s a Class B misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $250. If the violation results in a death, it is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by a $500 fine and a year of jail time.
- A 3-foot clearance between vehicles and bicycles is the law in Tennessee, however, more than 3 feet is necessary if the speed limit is above 40 mph.
- Even if there is a cyclists misbehaving and breaking the law, never verbally threaten or throw things at them. You could face a fine for assault. If you are trying to hit or run a cyclist off the road, that is considered aggravated assault (the vehicle is your weapon).
- Bike lanes are for cyclists. Don’t double park in a bike lane, even if you are just dropping someone off. This causes cyclists to have to swerve into the driver’s lane, which can be extremely dangerous.
- When making turns, look for both pedestrians and cyclists. If you are making a right turn, look in your rear view and side view mirrors to check for cyclists. If you are turning right and they are going straight, they have the right of way.
- If you are coming up behind a cyclist, you can toot your horn to let them know you’re coming, but don’t lean on the horn.
- Don’t assume that the cyclist is being a jerk if they are in the middle of the lane. A common occurrence for cyclists is what some people call being “doored.” That’s when a parked car’s door opens and the cyclist collides with it. Since there is a risk of being “doored,” many cyclists will allow a couple feet clearance between themselves and the parked cars on the right. Keep this in mind when you are opening up your door. It’s a good habit to check your side view mirror before swinging the door into traffic.
- In addition to the risk of being “doored,” cyclists face other risks if they squeeze too far to the right. Roadside hazards, such as glass, grates, and debris near the gutter may necessitate the cyclist to ride further to the left. Even if there is a shoulder, bicyclists are not required to use it. There is often glass and other debris on the shoulder, making it a difficult place to ride.
- While bike lanes are getting more and more common, most roads won’t have them. A wide shoulder can act as a bike lane, but sometimes the roads are very narrow. If the cyclist has no choice but to ride in the driver’s lane, then they have the right of way. The law allows them to take up the entire lane. If you cannot pass them safely within the lane, you must wait behind the cyclist until there is a safe opportunity to pass. Pass them only when it’s completely safe to do so (pass on the left). Keep in mind that cyclists sometimes swerve to avoid things in the road, just like cars sometimes do.
- When passing a cyclist, the law requires that you leave a safe distance of no less than 3 feet and maintain that clearance until you have safely overtaken the bicyclist.
- Cyclists are supposed to stay to the right. Drivers should
For more information on sharing the road with cyclists, see The Tennessee Handbook for Motorists & Bicyclists [pdf].
There are many benefits of cycling, but sometimes it’s just not practical. If you find yourself in need of a vehicle, contact Auto Simple.
We offer a wide variety of quality, certified pre-owned vehicles. Hop in, take it to the road, and share it safely with cyclists.
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