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Friday, November 20, 2009

Driver Education: How to Handle Bicycle Traffic

The first recorded traffic collision in the US occurred in May 1896 when Henry Wells, driving a Duryea motor wagon, struck and injured a cyclist. The cyclist wound up with a broken leg and Mr. Wells spent the night in jail. Things have changed since that time. In 2008, 716 cyclists were killed in traffic crashes and 52,000 were injured. Florida, the fourth largest state, led the nation with 125 bicycle deaths followed by California with 109.

Cycling has become a popular form of exercise and cyclists are appearing more and more on America's roads. More and more, cities are trying to make their roads friendlier to cyclists by creating cycling lanes but, for the great majority of roads, cyclists must share the same lanes with other traffic. All states have laws giving cyclists a right to use the road and requiring them to follow all the same laws and regulations that apply to motorists. Unfortunately, in many regions of the US where cycling is growing in popularity, tensions are growing between cyclists and motorists. When it comes to sharing the road, both motorists and cyclists need to understand the rules and exercise a little common sense.


When it comes to who has the right-of-way, both cyclists and motorists need to understand that no one can take the right-of-way; they can only give it up to someone else. Courtesy on the road- even when it isn't returned - is critical to preventing conflicts and saving lives.


  • Motorists need to understand that cyclists have a right to the road and need to be alert to their presence. To avoid conflicts with cyclists, there are a few things that motorists need to know and understand.

  • Cycles, whether motorized or not, have a small profile and can be difficult to see. Most of us expect to see cars but we don’t tend to look for or anticipate that there might be a cyclist in the area.

  • Speed is a major contributor to collisions between motorists and cyclists. Speeding doesn't give you time to react if you encounter a cyclist around a curve or over a hill.

  • Anticipate that there might be one or more cyclists over the next hill or around the next curve.

  • Before making a right hand turn at an intersection, check for cyclists coming up in your right side blind spot.

  • Before entering an intersection after a stop, check for cyclists approaching from the left. Look left, right, then, left again, before pulling out into the intersection.

  • Be especially watchful for cyclists when making turns, either left or right.

  • Allow at least three feet clearance when passing a bicyclist on the road.

  • Look for cyclists before opening a car door or pulling out from a parking space.

  • Yield to cyclists at intersections and as directed by signs and signals.
  • Cyclists can stop much faster than a car; allow a greater following distance behind cyclists.

  • When it appears that you will meet an oncoming vehicle and a cyclist at the same time, slow to let the other vehicle pass before attempting to pass the cyclist.
    Do not drive in a bicycle lane unless you are turning across it.

  • When the lane is too narrow to pass a cyclist safely, wait until the next lane is clear and give the bicycle all the rights of any other slow moving vehicle.
  • Be especially careful around children riding bicycles.

  • When encountering debris, potholes, or other obstructions, cyclists may need to "command the lane", meaning, they will need to move over into the center or left hand portion of the lane. Exercise patience and wait for a safe opportunity to pass.

  • When roads are wet, they can be very slippery for a cyclist. Allow them extra room.


  • All cyclists should wear properly fitted bicycle helmets whenever they ride. A helmet is the single most effective way to prevent head injury resulting from a bicycle crash.

  • Always ride on the right hand side of the road with traffic.

  • Cyclists are subject to the same rules of the road as any other vehicle operator. Obey all lane markings, signs, and signals.

  • Cyclists should increase their visibility to drivers by wearing fluorescent or brightly colored clothing during the day, dawn, and dusk.

  • When riding at night, increase your visibility by using a front light and a red reflector or flashing rear light, and use retro-reflective tape or markings on equipment or clothing.

  • Be courteous to motorists, even if the courtesy isn't returned. It can help keep you alive.

  • Although you have a right to the road, if there is a conflict with a motorist, it is better to pull over and stop than to risk a collision.
  • Don't try to force the issue of your "right to the road" by commanding the lane to slow down traffic. Pull to the right and allow traffic to pass whenever practicable.

  • If you encounter an angry motorist, don't add fuel to the fire by making gestures or responding in any negative way. Your actions could push a motorist over that psychological edge into a "road rage" situation. Concentrate on your own safety.

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