Biking season is here — things cyclists and drivers should know

The COVID-19 virus has put the world in turmoil, with exercise and social distancing both being necessary. Bicycling can accomplish both at the same time. But bicycling (and pedestrian) fatalities have been on the rise nationally for the past decade.

Last week’s column was about the National Transportation Safety Board’s call for a major policy overhaul to combat the rise in bicyclists killed in crashes with motor vehicles. Today we shall review some of the applicable laws and safety issues.

First and most important, bicycles, by law, have just as much right to use our streets and roads as do motor vehicles. However, cyclists are also required by law to obey the same laws that apply to drivers, such as stopping for pedestrians in a crosswalk and obeying all traffic signals, signs and pavement markings. This includes stopping for stop signs and red traffic signals, which an incredible number of cyclists seem to ignore. Bicycles are required by law to ride on the right side of the road, WITH TRAFFIC, not against traffic like pedestrians must do when walking along the road. Bicyclists are more visible and their movements more predicable to motorists when they ride with traffic. Riding against traffic is one of the leading causes of crashes.

The law requires bicyclists to use hand signals for turns or lane changes. They must have a bell or horn audible for 100 feet. If they ride at night, they must have a white front headlight visible for at least 500 feet, and a red taillight visible for at least 300 feet.

LED technology is readily available for cyclists and is very important to their safety. Riding with a red rear LED light on “flashing” mode during the daytime increases the safety of the cyclist. If visibility is an issue, putting your headlight on flash is another safety idea. These lights get the attention of motorists coming from behind and certify the presence to oncoming drivers as well. Flashing lights on bicycles, as opposed to vehicles, are allowed because a bicycle is not a “motor vehicle.” High-visibility clothing is also important for the safety of the bicyclist.

The law also requires a bicyclist less than 14 years old to wear a certified bike helmet. A parent who permits his or her child to violate this helmet law is subject to a fine of up to $50. For safety reasons, ALL bicyclists should wear helmets. Adults should set the example because children learn from what they see.

A child 1 to 4 years old carried on a bicycle as a passenger must wear a certified bicycle helmet AND ride in a child safety seat. Children less than 1 are prohibited from being transported on a bicycle.

Now for motorists — there are some things you need to know about how to share the road with bicyclists. First, remember (I know I’m repeating this, but for a good reason) that bicyclists have just as much right to use the street or road as you do. Respect them, and give them space. Any collision between a bicyclist and a motor vehicle will result in the motor vehicle winning. When approaching a bicyclist from behind, move over into the oncoming lane if no vehicles are approaching. It’s permissible to cross even a double solid line to pass a bicyclist, provided it is safe to do so. If there are approaching vehicles, move as far to the left of your lane as possible, and SLOW DOWN! Section 1122-a of Vehicle and Traffic Law requires the driver of a vehicle overtaking, from behind, a bicycle proceeding on the same side of a roadway to pass to the left of such bicycle “at a safe distance until safely clear thereof.”

So let’s be courteous and share the road, motorists AND bicyclists. Now get out there, get your daily exercise, and enjoy your bike ride.


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