“Dr. Phil’s” Take on Motorists & Cyclists, Their Work Commutes and Laws That Bind It All

What is it that makes cyclists so untolerable to some motorists? Is it the occasional momentary delay that a street without bike lanes, which forces a cyclist to ride in the lane (as the law dictates acceptable), sometimes creates?

Where is Dr. Phil when we need him? There are some issues here that need to be resolved. In his absence, I’ll give it a go, Dr. P-style.

Motorist listen up:

“Now, Motorist, do you accept that Cyclist really means you no affront or harm by choosing to be healthy and strong, fiscally unbound to pay record gas prices for a fuel economy-suppressed SUV and self-sufficient in his commute to work, where he too spends his time as an educated, gainfully-employed and productive member of society?”

Cyclist, now you need to see the err of your ways, please:

“Cyclist, do you understand that when you ride a safe space away from the curb where broken beer bottle remains gather and the occasional urban street sign leans too heavily to the left and parked cars reside, with their doors that can fling open at any moment, you may cause Motorist to focus on more than his cell phone, radio, uber-urgent work commute, self and —

Well, Cyclist, you may cause Motorist to need to slow down and care about your safety, you know? Sure, Motorist has 100-200 horse power he can easily funnel his road rage into in order to make up those lost moments of delay you caused but…

Wait. Motorist, what exactly is your problem with Cyclist? I think I lost sight of the issue here. One of you is utterly vulnerable and putting a whole heckuva lotta faith in the other to keep up his sense, compassion and, frankly, just some danged understanding of the laws; and one of you is seated in a couple of tons of automobile.

Someone here deserves some extra consideration for safety on the road and, Motorist, it ain’t you, Bub.”

Back to Reality, and the Statutes That Create It

You know, I don’t know if that is a good impression of Dr. Phil or not. But, as a bike commuter, I know the dynamics between motorist and cyclist are a two-way street, so to speak. As a cyclist I have responsibilities that enhance my own safety and yours. And motorists have a lot of responsibility too.

There seems to be quite a bit of confusion. Do cyclists belong on the road or sidewalk? Do they owe right of way at all times to cars? Are they forced against the curb or do they own a piece of the lane? Are they pedestrians or vehicles?

Answers to these questions vary from state to state, and possibly from city to city. To look into the laws that pertain to your location, visit a helpful, comprehensive list posted by folks in Massachusetts, called Mass Bike. But for the purposes of an example which likely is similar to the statutes pertaining to motorists and cyclists across the country, get a look at the β€œMissouri State Law for Motorists Interacting with Bicyclistβ€œ:

307.188. Rights and duties of bicycle and motorized bicycle riders. Every person riding a bicycle or motorized bicycle upon a street or highway shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle as provided by chapter 304, RSMo, except as to special regulations in sections 307.180 to 307.193 and except as to those provisions of chapter 304, RSMo, which by their nature can have no application.

Explanation: Motorists must treat bicycles with the same regard as they would any other vehicle; bicyclists have the same rights under traffic law as do other vehicles. And, on the other hand, bicycles must obey the same traffic laws in the same way as motor vehicles, with very, very limited exceptions.

304.012. Highest Degree of Care. Every person operating a motor vehicle on the roads and highways of this state shall drive the vehicle in a careful and prudent manner and at a rate of speed so as not to endanger the property of another or the life or limb of any person and shall exercise the highest degree of care.

Explanation: Motorists may not do anything, even something that otherwise appears to be legal, that endangers a bicyclists, pedestrian, or other motorist.

304.678. Overtaking bicycles at a safe distance 1. The operator of a motor vehicle overtaking a bicycle proceeding in the same direction on the roadway, as defined in section 300.010, RSMo, shall leave a safe distance, when passing the bicycle, and shall maintain clearance until safely past the overtaken bicycle. 2. Any person who violates the provisions of this section is guilty of an infraction unless an accident is involved in which case it shall be a class C misdemeanor.

Explanation: When passing a bicycle, you must leave a safe distance when passing and not return to the right part of the road until safely past the bicyclist. Passing unsafely is a traffic offense punishable by driver license points, fines, and, if an accident results, even jail.

304.016.4 When passing is allowed. No vehicle shall at any time be driven to the left side of the roadway under the following conditions: (1) When approaching the crest of a grade or upon a curve of the highway where the driver’s view is obstructed within such distance as to create a hazard in the event another vehicle might approach from the opposite direction;

Explanation: Motorists often attempt to pass bicyclists as they are traveling around curves or approaching the crest of a hill. But squeezing dangerously past the bicyclist or pulling blindly into the oncoming lane are both illegal. So if the lane is wide enough to pass the bicyclist, leaving a safe distance between your vehicle and the bicyclist, while remaining on the right half of the road, then you may pass. However, if safely overtaking the bicyclist requires you to pull onto the left side of the roadway, then the law requires you to wait behind the bicyclist until your view ahead is clear.

Related posts:

Senator Jeff Klein to Cyclist: Get Out of My F***ing Way!

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

World Naked Bike Ride: Is Anything Gained By Protesting Oil Dependence in the Buff?

Dollars and Sense: Calculating Money and Environmental Benefits of Bike Commuting

Moving House Via Bike: Environmental, Friendly Community Fun

  1. Bobby B.

    Good stuff, Adam. Since my morning commute is always before sunrise, I have to ask what the law requires of cyclists who commute during non-daylight hours? Automobiles must have functioning head lights, tail lights, side markers, and turn signals. The same rules apply to motorized cycles. Most bicycles are only equipped with reflectors at the time of sale, and some of the serious cyclists (amateur racers) remove them before ever hitting the road. Their brightly colored cycling outfits do stand out in the daylight, but not all of them reflect head lights very well.

    Please don’t take the question as an attack. I am really curious about what the law has to say about cycling during non-daylight hours.

  2. Scott @ NRDC

    Nice post, Adam. It really is amazing that drivers get so annoyed with bikers so easily. But then again, I remember how frustrated driving always made me, so maybe it really has nothing to do with the cyclist. Drivers just get annoyed about everything, and it’s easy not to care about others when you’re surrounded by a couple tons of steel.

    That’s one of the reasons I’m happy to be a bike commuter now … even when someone annoys me, I have to relate to them as fellow human beings. But it is nerve-wracking at times to rely on the other people around you for so much of your own safety.

    If only more people would give bike commuting a try, even once. It might not be for them, but I bet once they got back in the car, they’d be a whole lot nicer to the folks on two wheels. Too bad World Carfree Day is over: http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/sdodd/how_did_you_celebrate_world_ca.html

  3. Concetta

    I find it annoying that the articles here always “favor the bicyclists”. The situation in real life is much more evenly balanced between drivers doing stupid things and bicyclists doing stupid things.

    The Chicago Tribune did a two day series – one day with problems motorists had with bikers, the next day the problems bikers with motorists.

    What was interesting is that there were hundreds of comments on the opinion pages for weeks afterward thanking the Tribune for exposing the frustrations on both sides of the argument.

    It was nice to hear that the cyclists didn’t all have a “holier than thou” attitude and that not all motorists are “stupid raging oafs” like portrayed in this post.

    Living in a very bike friendly city, I can say that motorists are at fault for not always paying attention, and getting frustrated at the streams of bicyclists NOT obeying traffic laws (like stop lights/signs). The pedestrians are upset that the bicyclists don’t obey traffic laws, and instead of being polite and slowing down in major pedestrian areas, many scream “on your left” or something that isn’t always comprehensible by the time they come whizzing by, nearly injuring people in the process.

    The cyclists have a right to be upset that some motorists don’t follow traffic laws either, like getting off their cell phones and driving in bike-only lanes. And they have the right to be upset when the city designs convoluted bike lanes that dump them right into traffic.

    I’m not a bike commuter. I live way too far from where I work for that. But I do ride a two-wheeled vehicle in the summer, and I can tell you, I see many of the same risks the cyclists do. And as a more frequent pedestrian, I’ve had more accidental near-cyclist run-ins than I care to count (especially since they came out with these “naked” bikes that people can’t stop easily).

    I think cyclists lump way too many motorists into the “stupid oaf” category, when really, they should be working on politely educating the public about where to cycle, how to cycle, and how to interact with cars and pedestrians. At the same time, they need to educate city administrators to put forth bike friendly road designs.

    The more people are educated without such incendiary fluff as “What is it that makes cyclists so untolerable to some motorists?”, the more people will respect each other on both sides of the argument when on the road.

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