10/12/06 – Sharing the Road? What are Cyclists’ Rights?

It seems that more now than ever I’m hearing stories of awkward and occasionally violent meetings between cyclists and motorists. There’s the things we’ve all encountered – honking, yelling, maybe you’ve even had things thrown at you. But lately there’s been swerving, verbal exchanges at traffic lights, and intentional screeching of brakes. In fact, WKRN ran a news story just weeks ago as a part of their “I’m ticked off!” series about motorists frustrations with cyclists in rural Nashville. How far is too far?

Actually, our real questions should be; What is fueling these incidents and how do we extinguish the flame? Are motorists just intolerant or are we cyclists provoking them? What can we do to improve this situation?

Well, educating all motorists on the rights of cyclists and telling them to back off would take a very long time and would be quite ineffective; even though some of them probably need to hear it. However, we cyclists can learn our rights and the responsibilities that accompany those rights and become smarter, more considerate cyclists and hope that we can change the hearts of the motorists in our area. So, where do we begin?

First, the best resource for finding your rights and responsibilities as a cyclist in most states is: http://massbike.org/bikelaw/statelaws.htm. This website links to other online resources which reference the driver’s code for most states and even some territories of the U.S. The listing for the state of Tennessee is very thorough and clear and is worth a read; whether to discover your rights and responsibilities for the first time or to refresh your memory.

The biggest thing that we as a community of cyclists need to acknowledge is: while the laws generally give us the right-of-way, there is a great deal of responsibility that comes along with those rights. And the first responsibility is to obey the same rules of the road that motorists do. There are those among us who run stop signs and ride around traffic lights – simply because we’re too lazy to slow down and stop. You know who you are. I’ve been riding for a long time; I know it’s not easy or fun to accelerate back up to cruising speed from a complete stop. But at an intersection we’re not talking about ease or fun – we’re talking about safety and it’s not safe to run an intersection in a bike or in a car. And if you want to be treated like a car, you have to act like one. We are safest on our bikes when we ride in a predictable manner and obey traffic laws.

I myself have gotten myself into verbal exchanges with motorists when I’ve been obeying traffic laws and riding as I’m supposed to. (Either as far to the right of a lane as is safe or in another case signaling to cross traffic to use a left-turn lane.) In those cases, I knew I was right and in no way was I unpredictable or did I endanger myself or the motorists around me. I’m not proud of the fact that a driver and myself were yelling at each other (although I did keep my cool; and my volleys were definitely more intelligent sounding due to their lack of profanity…) but if yelling was the result of my choice to ride responsibly instead of a cyclist or a motorist getting injured in an accident, then I made the right choice; in spite of what that motorist thinks.

In the end, ride better than you would drive. Remember the concept of “defensive driving” from Driver’s Ed? Ride like no one knows you’re there. Plan ahead, signal your intentions, and be predictable and you’ll find that motorists are more understanding.

And, just because there are many roads that you can ride side-by-side on, doesn’t mean you should do it. If there’s a car behind you, move to single-file so that they can pass safely without endangering themselves or yourself.

I may come off a little abrasive on this entry, but it’s something I’m very passionate about and think about every time I ride. If you have any questions or comments, don’t hesitate to contact me.
Thanks for reading.

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