What Bicyclists and Drivers Need to Know About Sharing the Road
Now that the weather is nice and warm, one thing millions of people enjoy doing is going out for bike rides. Riding a bike is a fun way to get around, stay in shape, save money, and do something good for the environment all at the same time. Unfortunately, since bicycles and are so much lighter than cars and lack the safety features that cars have, it’s easy for bicyclists to be seriously injured or killed when they get into accidents with cars.
With so many bicyclists out and about this time of year, it’s important that both bicyclists and motorists understand how to safely share the road with each other. In Michigan, bicyclists are legally allowed to be on most roadways, except for expressways and limited access roadways that expressly prohibit bikes. Although it is not illegal to ride on the sidewalk in many areas, teen and adult cyclists are actually safer riding in the road since it can be harder for motorists to see bicyclists on sidewalks.
What’s Expected of Bicyclists?
Bicyclists are required to follow the same rules of the roads that apply to drivers, including signaling turns, yielding to pedestrians, checking for oncoming traffic before entering a roadway, obeying stop signs and other traffic signals, and riding with the flow of traffic. Bicyclists are not allowed to ride between lanes of traffic and should avoid entering roadways from between parked cars.
Generally speaking, cyclists are supposed to ride as far to the right of the roadway as possible. However, there are some exceptions to that rule. If the far right hand side of the roadway has hazards such as gravel, storm drains, or broken glass, the bicyclist might not be able to safely ride there and can legally ride closer to the left. If a roadway is too narrow for a car to safely pass a bicyclist, the bicyclist is allowed to move over. Bicyclists can also move over if they are getting ready to turn left, to pass another bicyclist on the road, if the bicyclist is going to proceed straight through an intersection while other traffic is turning right, or if they are riding on a one-way highway or street with two or more lanes.
The more visible a cyclist is, the better. If you’re planning to ride your bike between the time of half an hour after sunset and half an hour before sunrise, you are required to have a red reflector on the back of your light and a lamp on the front of your bike that emits white light that can be visible for at least 500 feet. Be sure to wear reflective gear while you ride, too!
Want to go for a bike ride with a group of friends? Great! Just remember that it’s safest to ride single file and never ride more than two people abreast to avoid interfering with traffic.
What’s Expected of Motorists?
Since bicyclists can be harder to see than cars, it’s very important to look carefully for them. Be particularly mindful of them when attempting to enter a roadway. When you’re passing by a bicyclist, give them plenty of space; three feet is the recommended minimum distance that should be kept between drivers and bicyclists. Be sure to watch your speed as you pass a bicyclist.
If you’re parallel parked, be particularly careful to check for bicyclists in the roadway before opening your door. Bicyclists running into car doors that open unexpectedly is a very common way bicyclists get injured.
Designated bike lanes have started becoming a more common sight in many parts of Michigan. If a roadway has a designated bike lane, it’s important for drivers to stay out of them except to enter or exit a property. Do not use them as a parking lane. If you need to make a right turn on a road that has a designated bike lane, turn from the traffic lane, not the bike lane. If you are attempting to turn right and a bicyclist is in the bike lane, heading straight through the intersection, the bicyclist has the right of way. Also, keep in mind that bicyclists are not legally required to use bike lanes. If there are hazards in the bike lane, they can move over in the roadway.
If it’s at all possible, avoid using the horn on your car to get the attention of a bicyclist, especially out of frustration. Remember that according to Michigan law, you’re only supposed to use your horn if it’s necessary to ensure safe travel. A loud noise like a car horn can startle a bicyclist and cause them to lose control of their bike. Only use your horn to get a bicyclist’s attention if there is a clear safety issue at hand.
A little bit of understanding and cooperation between bicyclists and motorists can go a long way in preventing accidents and injuries. Have more questions about safely sharing the road? The League of Michigan Bicyclists has answers to many frequently asked questions.