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Sharing the road with bicycles and in-line skaters

April 16, 2011
By DAVE WERNER - Franklin County Traffic Safety Board ( , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

After a long winter, it's time for biking and gliding again. Every year there are new bicyclists, and they may not know all the vehicle and traffic laws that apply. Even seasoned bikers are often ignorant of the laws. Also, motorists aren't always aware of their responsibilities regarding bicycles and in-line skaters.

Railroad crossings present additional hazards to cyclists and specific responsibilities for motorists. Vehicle and Traffic Law, article 1125(a)2, prohibits any vehicle from being driven on the left side of a roadway within 100 feet of or when traversing a railroad grade crossing. This law essentially prohibits a vehicle from passing a bicycle from 100 feet before a crossing until after the cyclist has crossed the tracks. For safety reasons bicycles must cross the rails at a 90-degree angle. This law protects the bicyclist on approach and during his/her crossing the rails. Motorists should be aware that a cyclist may change direction prior to crossing the rails so as to cross them at a 90-degree angle.

Normally, vehicles must drive on the right side of the roadway. However, V & T article 1120(a) (2) gives additional protection to cyclists by making an exception to driving on the right side of the roadway when overtaking and passing bicycles, if it is safe to do so. This means that you may cross into the oncoming lane if there is no approaching traffic. As previously stated, this is not permitted when approaching or crossing railroad tracks.

V & T article 1122-a provides that the driver of a vehicle overtaking and passing a bicycle on the same side of the roadway must pass to the left of the bicycle "at a safe distance until safely clear of it." A safe distance is considered a minimum of three feet but may be greater, such as when the cyclist is being passed by a tractor-trailer, or when the passing vehicle is moving at a speed of 40 mph or more.

The following is a review of the laws that apply to bicycles and in-line skaters, and should be understood by all cyclists and drivers in order to share the roadway safely:

Bicyclists and in-line skaters must obey the same laws that apply to motor vehicles, including all traffic signals, signs and pavement markings, as well as stopping for pedestrians in crosswalks. Those who violate the law are subject to traffic tickets, and parents can be held responsible for violations by minor children.

The law requires that bicyclists ride and in-line skaters glide with traffic. (Bicycling and skating against traffic are leading causes of crashes. Moving with traffic makes bicyclists and skaters more visible and their movements more predictable to motorists).

Where bicycle lanes are not available, cyclists and skaters may use the right edge or shoulder of the roadway. They may move farther left to avoid hazards or to turn left, avoiding undue interference with other traffic. Bike riders must signal for turns whether driving on a roadway or bike path.

Bicyclists and in-line skaters have the legal right to share the road on most public highways, but they are prohibited on interstate highways and expressways.

They may ride two abreast on roadways, but they must ride or skate single when being overtaken by other vehicles.

Bicyclists and in-line skaters less than 14 years old must wear safety certified bicycle helmets. However, every bicyclist or in-line skater should wear an approved helmet. They significantly reduce the risk of sustaining a serious head injury.

Any parent or guardian who permits his or her child to violate the helmet law is subject to a fine of up to $50.

Children 1 to 4 years old must wear certified bicycle helmets AND ride in child safety seats.

Children less than one year old are prohibited from being transported on a bicycle.

Bicycles must be equipped with a brake that is capable of making the bike tires skid on dry level pavement, and must have a bell, horn or other device that can be heard at least 100 feet away.

Bicycles driven at night must have a white front headlight, visible for at least 500 feet, and a red or amber taillight visible for at least 300 feet.

Some municipalities may prohibit in-line skating and/or riding bicycles on sidewalks.

Please familiarize yourself with local rules of the road and follow them. Know the laws, and enjoy bicycling and in-line skating safely.


For more articles on vehicle and traffic law and traffic safety, go to the Traffic Safety Board website at



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