Driving With Cyclists: Six Rules of the Road to Keep Everyone Safe

Wake up, American drivers!  With gas prices through the roof, you’re undoubtedly sharing the road with record numbers of cyclists.  And guess what?  Those cyclists have just as much right to the road as you do.  If you expect them to obey the rules of the road, you’ve got to understand how to share that road with cyclists.

While on a short, 3.5 mile bike ride in my neighborhood, traversing no major thoroughfares, encountering no stoplights, I had no less than four unsafe cycling experiences. A car peeled around a corner without slowing or signaling, almost hitting me.  Another driver almost hit me by slowing, not stopping, while I was legally proceeding through a four-way stop.  I was also tailgated so closely by a car that I had to pull over.  Finally, a driver opened up his door as I was right next to his car, causing me to have to suddenly swerve to avoid hitting the door.  I’ve been riding my bike in much more serious traffic for years, and I’ve been fortunate to not have a series of events like I had last night.

Cyclists, if you’re on the road, you’ve got to both know, and be confident in, the rules of the road.  You’ve also got to be extremely vigilant, as you have a lot more to lose than a vehicle should the two of you tangle.  But drivers, you’ve got to hold up your end of the bargain.  You’re bigger and faster.  You’ve got to know how to drive with cyclists on the road.

The Rules for Riding With Cyclists–Not Against Them

  1. Be aware of cyclists.  I believe, because of the boom of cyclists, that it’s imperative that drivers adjust their awareness of cyclists.  You can no longer just look for huge hunks of metal.  You’ve got to be on the lookout for cyclists, too.  Just being cognizant of bikes on the road, not staring at us blankly wondering, “What is this strange two-wheeled vehicle?” will go a long way.  In fact, a recent study in Australia just uncovered that more bikes on the road actually leads to less car-bike accidents, as drivers who often interact with bikes are more aware than those who do not.
  2. Don’t drive in dedicated bike lanes.  Please.  And realize that those lanes usually end at some point, and bikes will re-enter the rest of the road with cars.
  3. At intersections, you must yield to cyclists like any other vehicle.  They get their fair turn, too.
  4. Don’t tailgate.  Either go around, or chill out until there is an opportunity to pass safely.  You CAN pass us (which is preferable to you just driving right on our tail), just make sure you’re giving us a few feet on our left.  If we wave you on, that means there’s room.  For goshsakes, don’t honk.  We already know you’re there, and horns are much louder outside the car.
  5. When getting out of your car, do a quick check behind you to make sure no cyclists are coming.  Cyclist + car door=FAIL.
  6. Please use your turn signal faithfully.  You should be doing it anyway.  Increased communication, whether or not you believe it to be superfluous, is always a good thing.

We’re all just trying to get from point A to point B, right?  If everyone, drivers and cyclists, agree to abide by rules of the road, everyone can stay safe.

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  • THANK YOU! I can’t tell you what a difference it would make for cyclists riding in traffic if more drivers did even a few of the things on your list!

  • Ok I agree:

    Now people on Bikes the rules apply to you. If the light is red you must stop not just slow down. If you see me stopped at a red light waiting to make a right turn do not pass on the right. If you are going to cut across lanes use a hand signal. Do not in and out of traffic, the drivers need time to react.

  • Beth–I totally agree. It goes both ways. I’ve seen people riding that are completely idiotic and act like they have a death wish.

    I will say that I think the majority of people braving riding in traffic try to be as courteous and rule-abiding as possible, because again, we have more to lose.

  • As a bike commuter in St. Louis I do see this as a two-way street, as it were.

    Most cyclists I see seem to be riding for lack of other means. No helmet, riding on sidewalks or against traffic, and likely unaware of rules and laws.

    I figure they do my biking existence more harm than good as drivers see them on sidewalks and then assume that that’s where I belong, too. In fact, that’s been the majority of my brushes with angry drivers. (“Get off the road!!!”)

    The fact — and law — is that cyclists are vehicles and belong on the road. I think we seriously need some civic education about that.

    To do my part, I ride in the street (bike lanes where they exist), wearing a helmet and obey the laws. My theory is that by showing cars/drivers that I too am willing to obey red lights, they will respect me for it. And thru confident assumption of my rightful piece of the road, I force them to acknowledge my presence there (even if they don’t know I lawfully do have a rightful piece of the road).

    And in the end, I hope to Buddha I don’t get run over or hit by any of the texting-while-driving or just plain cyclist-despising folks that are urgently cranking two tons of automobile within inches of my life as they pass.

    Oh, and I also will ride out-of-the-way routes if it means I can, hopefully, minimize danger to myself.

  • How many of today’s cyclists know that all signals are made with the left arm/hand? How many know all three signals that can be made with the left arm/hand? How many fail to keep to the right to allow room for passing? The more of them I see on the road, the more I realize how reckless this generation of cyclists can be.

    BTW, driving while texting is a hot topic since the commuter train wreck in California. However, it leads to a couple of questions. How is it that the two switches lack a failsafe that forces them to work in conjuction with one another? Had this been the case the commuter train would have simply derailed at the switch instead of hitting another train head-on. Second, if there was a failsafe, does the engineer have the authority to override a switch? The “engineer was texting and ran a stop light” theory sure seems awfully simplistic.

  • thank goodness you chimed in bobby. it wouldn’t be a day at sustainablog if we didn’t have your cynicism and criticism always digging at us. i’m really starting to wonder if you have a job — or if this is your job.

    as for cyclists staying right…they can own the entire right lane, if they wish. by law. slow vehicles to the right, and bicycles are vehicles.

    your logic to put full responsibility on the cyclist in the way you have rings an echo with mccain’s explanation for being a poor excuse of a politician, “but if obama would have just done the town hall talks… i wouldn’t have to be a liar, etc.”

    as if to say: “well, if cyclists follow the law and ride out away from the gutter where all of the broken glass, parked cars that might swing their doors open at any moment, etc. are, then you deserve to be despised and run over.”

    (note i didn’t cheapen mccain’s name, though i despise his atrocious lack of humanity right now, by using any of the trendy, mocking euphemisms; i expect you to do the same, unlike your previous racist reference to obama in a comment you recently left at one of my posts.)

    okay, bobby. go ahead and let it rip. i know you can’t leave well enough alone…

  • Bree

    I love to ride. My kids follow the rules. They know what a stop sign means – STOP. Same for red lights. They signal. They follow the rules of the road. I am rubbing off on them. When in a car and a rider doesn’t stop – they now yell out – It’s a stop sign! It’s a red light!! I don’t know how many riders I have nearly hit because I have stopped at stop signs and am taking my turn making a left and a rider comes tearing along the side of cars (no one can see them) and they run the stop sign. For some reason I get yelled at. In our area (The SF Bay area) we have a lot of radical riders who feel that no rules apply to them. They are dangerous even to other bike riders. I don’t wonder why kids don’t follow the rules – they watch the adults.

    A lot of drivers cause problems – a lot of riders cause problems. Breaking the rules, then thumbing your nose at everyone else does not make allies. It makes people mad.

    I love it when I see bike riders talking on their phones (not hands free). Texting while riding is even better – they are staring at their phone and not looking where they are going as they type.

    Neither side (we shouldn’t have sides) has room to brag. Both have valid complaints.

    Maybe someday we will grow up and (heaven forbid) take responsibility for our own actions. I know, I get these strange fantasies………

  • I must not be a very talented rider. I can’t imagine using my phone in any capacity while riding.

  • John

    Regarding point 2, I would rather motorists merge into the bike lane before turning right than pull up alongside me and suddenly cut right. Merge means move into the bike lane either completely in front of or completely behind any cyclists.

    Regarding point 5, stay out of the door zone, period. Riding so close to parked cars that you’d smash into a suddenly opened door is just asking for it.

  • Sally

    This was a great article! I ride to work everyday, and have almost been hit by a driver hot stopping at a stop sign.

  • Adam,

    “i expect you to do the same, unlike your previous racist reference to obama in a comment you recently left at one of my posts”

    What the heck are you talking about? I have never laid any sort of racist attack on Barack Hussein Obama. Is it because you have stereotyped me with other white southerners? Or maybe it is my disregard for the mainstream media’s call not to mention his middle name. Could it be Hussein’s association with people of dubious character? Of course, maybe you think the term “socialist” reeks of racism. Short of that, I’d have to say that you are simply stating untruths in an attempt to shore up one of your posts. Such charges should be above the fray, Adam.

  • ‘as if to say: “well, if cyclists follow the law and ride out away from the gutter where all of the broken glass, parked cars that might swing their doors open at any moment, etc. are, then you deserve to be despised and run over.”’

    Second point. I would never advocate running over cyclists for any reason. I was simply trying to point out that since cyclist lose the momentum battle on the road they need to be wary of their surroundings and use proper road etiquette. I did not intend to be confrontational, but I am more than happy to go to the cellar if necessary.

    I actually pay special attention to non-motorized travellers. On a bicycle commute to school when I was thirteen, I t-boned a car that pulled across my direction of travel without yielding. I ended up sliding across the hood and landing on the pavement. The bike was totaled, but the agility of youth prevented any serious injuries to its rider. Oh, and I was riding to the far right near the ditch and broken glass, etc. Even then, I knew it was foolish to challenge 2-ton bullets.

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