Bikes and cars: Both have a right to the road


Bikes and cars can share the road safely.

My favorite bike trail parallels a city street for about a mile. Every time I ride that stretch, I am reminded of the perils bicyclists face every day. On the trail, my biggest hazard is toddlers with training wheels; but out in the street are speeding, inattentive or even distracted drivers.

Safe cycling depends on all parties understanding their responsibilities and following the rules of the road. Motorists must be attentive to cyclists, yield when required and take care when turning across bike lanes. Cyclists also must ride with the traffic, make themselves visible and signal turns.

In most states, helmets are required for children, but I don’t know many adults who ride on the street without one, even where it’s legal.

Bicycles in the roadway are considered vehicles and are required to follow the same traffic rules as cars and trucks. The federal Bike to Work website, a cooperative effort of the U.S. Department of Transportation, federal Highway Administration and the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center at the University of North Carolina, offers safety tips for both cyclists and motorists.

Be sure to visit the site to read the full details of each of these points, but in general, safe cyclists take care to:

  • Ride with traffic and follow all rules of the road
  • Take care in choosing where to ride
  • Ride on the trail, paved shoulder or marked bike lane or bike route
  • Be predictable and visible
  • Watch for debris or obstacles such as storm grates
  • Watch for turning traffic
  • Stay alert, using eyes and ears when biking

On the other side of the equation, motorists need to:

  • Watch for bicyclists at all times; bikes may take the entire lane in certain situations
  • Drive the speed limit and avoid aggressive maneuvers
  • Pass bicyclists with care

You’ll find a number of great resources on the Web for more information:

The National Center for Bicycling and Walking offers the Top 10 Bike/Ped Resources.

I Am Traffic, another bicycle advocacy group, has an interactive map of state laws that affect cyclists. 

And finally, I am a fan of the Rails to Trails Conservancy, since I prefer to ride mostly on developed bike/hike trails. Use its locator to find a trail near you.

Submitted by Laura Hobbs

32 thoughts on “Bikes and cars: Both have a right to the road

  1. In 21 states, you must allow three feet between your car and the bicyclist when passing. Ohio House Bill 145 is being considered which would require motorists to allow at least three feet in Ohio. Currently, Ohio law only says that the motorist must pass with a “safe distance” from the bicyclist without specifying the distance. This would help with bicyclist safety; if you can’t allow three feet, slow down and wait before passing.

    • In every single state bicyclists can be observed regularly illegally passing motorists in the several inches between right side of vehicles and the curb, driving between lanes of cars on multiple lane roads, weaving in and out between the bumpers of cars, running stop lights & signs and making it impossible for drives to obey such ill-conceived laws.

      In high density urban areas it is the cyclists’ own reckless conduct that poses the greatest threat to their own safety and that of pedestrians.

      In the last two years I’ve personally witnessed more than two dozen bicycle involved incidents that caused or resulted in injury on my daily commute through a university centered urban area and every single on of them was completely the cyclists fault.

    • You mean like obeying the speed limit. Not running red lights not tailgating, not texting while driving, etc. Remember, when you break those laws you can kill someone. It is highly unlikely that a bicyclist will do so if they break the law.

  2. They both have a legal right to the road, and both have to obey the laws (including laws against impeding the flow of traffic). However roads are generally paid for through gas taxes and in some states road use fees paid at time of registration. bicyclists (and people driving electric cars) aren’t paying those gas taxes and so are getting a free ride.

    • Jeff, without you providing data that roads are generally paid through gas taxes and road use fees, I doubt that’s true. Those revenue sources are not enough, and taxpayers, who in some cases never use the roads, pay for construction, and more importantly, maintenance.

    • Gasoline taxes cover about one half of the cost of building and maintaining roads;
      The rest is paid by general federal, state an local taxes which are paid for by everyone. In addition, you may want to consider the amount of wear your vehicle causes versus the amount of wear my 20 pound bicycle causes when demanding your share of the road. Oh, and by the way, I also buy gasoline and do pay those associated taxes.

    • Most adult bike riders own cars and use them, so, using your argument, they have as much right to be on the road on their bike as they do when they are in their car.

    • Jeff, your assumption is that bicycle riders aren’t also car drivers. I drive and ride. I pay a shed load of taxes. It may be that I deserve more of the road than you do, if you want to make it pay for play.

      Your comment is childish at best. Everyone should be careful on the road, but few deaths have been caused by bicyclists. (Other than their own) Its usually the car driver who has been in negligent in almost 80% of the time is you track research.

      While you rail at bicyclists remember that these same shoddy drivers are killing other drivers more often than cyclists.

    • No free ride here Jeff, you are wrong. I own three automobiles and pay for gasoline and tags just like any other automobile driver. I own a home, have a job and pay taxes. So therefore when I choose to ride I am riding on a road I helped pay for. Of course we do have a turnpike that is paid for by tolls collected from vehicles. I admit bicycle riders have no part in paying for that. But then we are not allowed to ride on it either.

    • I have to say that as someone who bikes to work almost daily. I still pay my fair share when gassing up our gas guzzling mini van. And as far as impeding traffic, I try very hard not to, but when I share a lane with a vehicle due to “bike lane closed ahead” there isn’t much I can do but pedal as hard as I can and try and give passing room.

  3. Weekend warriors all dressed up in their spandex racing gear ridding the wrong way down a street, ridding with earphones in, blowing stop signs, ridding three abreast on city streets are the ones that most drivers hate. Mom, Dad and Kids are generally doing the right thing and following traffic laws.

    • You’re working hard to get all the stereotypes in? Research has shown that 79% of accidents with cyclists are caused by car drivers.

      And of course, there never has been a car driver who blows through a stop sign, or goes the wrong way down the street.

      I see that you carefully made it 3 abreast, because 2 abreast is legal. But the fact is that no cyclist rides 3 abreast. Because the middle rider would have no exit opportunity when the jackwagon comes down the street at 20 mph faster than the speed limit.

      Clearly you have little awareness of what road conditions are or those others sharing the road. I wouldn’t be surprised if you have mucho points on your license.

  4. I ride a bike and I agree with Dan. I hate them too. They are inconsiderate and give all bikers a bad name. I try to be respectful and ride single file and obey the traffic laws and so do most others. But the ones he described stink and deserve to have horns blown at them and people yelling at them. BTW those shirts look really stupid. I also have a beef with disrespectful jerks on the trail that weave in and out and nearly knock regular riders off their bikes, never yell On Your Left, or show common courtesy. [Edited to remove part of comment that violates our posting guidelines.]

    • Before I can use the roads I must have car insurance, a drivers liscence, and be at least 16 years old. Some states require drivers education before you can get a drivers liscence. None of this is required by a person on a bike. So why does the bike rider have the same privlage to ride on the street. P.S. there are also speed limits that bikes can not acheive and in a car you are protected by airbags and a metal frame. So do you think a plastic helmit and pads are enought ? This argument that bikes have the same rights is foolish. They cause accidents because drivers are trying to pass where the bikes are obstructing traffic and people get frustrated trying to get by them

      • Geesus how do I get off this site?

        Most of you guy’s highest achievement is to get your drivers license.

        Unfortunately few even have an understanding as to what your responsibilities now are. You seem to think no one else pays taxes, no one else has any rights on the road, and that everyone not named you is an idiot.

        By profiling your spelling on this site, I can assure you that you don’t contribute large amounts of money to the community you live in in the form of taxes. Just behave yourself and drive according to the rules of the road. and as an aside, research has shown that drivers are the cause of 80% of accidents involving bicycles and vehicles.

        So you are the dangerous ones. And the crappiest of the road users. So wake up.

        • “So you (motor vehicle drivers) are the dangerous ones. And the crappiest of the road users. So wake up.” – Mal 4/21/14 12:41 pm

          Really. The how is it then that I’ve never seen the driver of a car enter a roadway from between parked cars…or move from a ‘red light’ roadway onto a ‘green light’ crosswalk and back onto the roadway to get through an intersection ‘on green’ (kinda-sorta)…or ride the wrong way on a one way street BETWEEN two lanes of oncoming car traffic…or hang onto a delivery vehicle and let THAT pull his car along…or…well, here:

          I see cars stopping at stop signs and stop lights all day long, but I literally CANNOT accurately recall when I last saw a cyclist do so (it’s been at least a year or two though) – UNLESS cross traffic f-o-r-c-e-d him to do so…and I’m dead serious about that. Cyclists around here (a college town, by-the-way) just do whatever they please – or not – rules-wise. It is also literally true that the local P.D. has standing orders to ignore traffic violations committed by cyclists…and, of course, no ‘red light camera’ has EVER generated a citation for a cyclist BECAUSE A BIKE HAS NO LICENSE PLATE(S).

          So, we come right back to what I’ve stated before: cyclists DO get a free ride…all the way around; ‘NO vehicle or rider’s license, no insurance, no gas tax, no tickets (in my area anyway), no ‘nuthun’.

          (It might be appropriate to remember here that roads have always been designed and built for MOTOR VEHICLE use…not bike riding. Generally speaking, motor vehicles couldn’t get from “A” to “B” without them. Bikes can. And, yes, there are plenty of reckless, idiot ‘drivers’. But, as a PERCENTAGE of the total cars vs. total bikes on the road, there are far, faaaaaaaaaar more reckless cyclists who make it a habit to continuously flout the law.)

      • Terry, I’m a “ride to work” gal. I get frustrated by cars who slam to a stop inside the cross walk before looking for pedestrians and bikers, just to turn right. Also I have been cut off by cars who think that they “HAVE” to be in the bike lane a 1/2 miles before making a right. I stay as close to the curb as possible in my bike lane and still have had near misses by people pulling trailers who are staying as far away from traffic on their left. I agree that having the same rights can not be, but that doesn’t mean drivers are off the hook. I still have to dodge debris thrown into the bike lane from passing cars some examples are rebar, nuts, bolts, glass bottles. This sharing the road thing needs to be taken more seriously. All things I never considered before becoming a bike rider, who has NO other way to get to work than sharing the road.

    • Easy to see why this was edited. The basis of the information is more difficult to digest. I have not heard the ‘On your left’ mention- is that the same as a horn toot?

  5. Riding bicycles since 1958 I’ve learned that like boats/ships in a harbor the smaller craft needs to yield to the larger. Riding a 10-speed in Austin for 6 months in 1973 I was hit by autos running red lights, turning right & being side-swiped but I didn’t stop riding. Obeying ALL traffic laws, not passing stopped vehicles on the right at intersections & staying to the far right in designated bicycle lanes can help us all coexist quite nicely. For the rest, to quote Ron White: “You can’t fix STUPID!”

  6. The problem I have with cyclists and walkers is that they want to ride side by side or walk side
    by side to converse with each other. When riding or walking on the highway, your attention
    should be on the traffic, not what you watched on T.V. last night. I have bikers and walkers in
    my neighborhood that believe the road belongs to them, even with sidewalks less than 10 feet
    away. Streets were paved for cars; sidewalks were poured for people.

  7. I think all bikers should pay a special tax, and wealthy bikers should pay a really big tax so Big Brother could get involved to fix everything! He could purchase special biking trails where no cars are allowed and make sure it is really safe for bikers to ride and enjoy clean air and fresh daisies, and the taxes could pay for Special Police Bikers who could give tickets to speeders and those who are having too much fun at everyone else’s expense as well as all those fat people who like to wear Spandex! Then those who choose to work for a living could be free to go about their business without having to be concerned with all the Posers and Pretenders.

  8. Regarding the comment (paraphrased), “I pay gas, license tab, driver’s license fees and other taxes on my car(s), etc., so it’s not true that my bike is getting a free ride.” ‘Horsefeathers. Here’s why: One cannot legally operate any individual car on a public road w/o current ‘tabs or insurance (in most states), nor can one legally avoid paying gas taxes in order to power the car…and that applies to EACH and EVERY individual car any particular person may own. NONE of those things applies to bikes/bike riders. But, a bike has no license plate, carries no insurance, ‘rider isn’t required to have a ‘riders license’, etc…therefore bikes are, in essence, ‘given a pass’ in all those areas. After all, a CAR OWNER cannot simply say, ‘Well, I pay all those taxes on car “A” – therefore that covers my tax liabllity on all my other vehicles as well.” That argument just will not / does not cut it in court. Likewise, a bike owner cannot say his BIKE is covered by all the taxes/fees/insurance, etc., he pays on his car(s).

    Bottom line: bikes DO get a free ride.

  9. Well, I live in the country around Austin, Texas and I’ve had about of these two-wheeled cockroaches that I can stand. I had hoped that after Lance Armstrong was dethroned we might get a break from these idiots that ride three and more abreast down our county roads that can hardly accommodate two vehicles passing each other. Those of us who live out here use those roads to get back and forth to work. They come out here in large swarms, bring their own food and drink instead of patronizing local restaurants and stores, and leave their trash behind.
    The idea of taking a nice bike ride through the country on a spring day is very appealing. But what I’m complaining about isn’t that.

  10. I lived in boulder Colorado for 10 years had had to put up with rude foul mouth bic riders. I had my car door kicked in three times by riders that were riding three abreast on a two lane road. I’ve had my side mirror broken and water throwen in my car by by a rider who didn’t recognize me. When I saw him at church the following Sunday, I gave him back his water bottle and in front of his wife and children I said I hope you never do what you did to me to anyone else. anyone can be rude and a bad driver or rider. I’ve a $3500 recumbent that I ride all the time. I’m a very defensive rider and don’t give anyone else on the road a reason to cause me grief. The riders I know seem to have little problem riding. What you give and get back seems to always come around.

  11. In order to use the roads, cyclists shouyld be required to pay a fee and pass a basic road test. They should be required to carry at least insurance liability insurance. They should be required to pay an annual fee and display a current license and registration. They should be required to obey ALL traffic laws including signalling when stopping and turning as well as observe traffic control devices. They should also be subject to being cited for violations such as improper passing, traveling on the wrong side of the road, and especially impeding the flow of traffic.

  12. I have never favored having bicycles share the road with cars, and never will. This isn’t china where there are far more bikes than cars. It’s not safe for the cyclist, and never will be. If left to me they would be relegated to the sidewalks with the rest of the toys.

  13. Maybe they won’t kill someone but, they need to follow the rules of the road, and I generally will say that is not the case. They don’t stop for stop signs among other rules of the road. I would suggest they have to take classes just like drivers of motor vehicles have to do, and have insurance. They have caused wrecks! And should be held liable for their behavior just like everyone else. If they are going to have availability to all the roads then why do we need bike trails? We here in Ohio are building there all over the place and everyone is riding on the road. Then when you get done with that look at the walker and runners who also do not follow any of the rules of the road. Have came across them on dark highways with no protective gear and almost hit them, and they got mad!???? I really do not understand why we want bicycles and walkers and runners sharing the crowded roads with 2,000 pound moving vehicles….makes no sense to me.

  14. Bikers in general are the some of the most arrogant and rude people on the road, they seem to think they own the road. They have this Holier than Thou attitude, I guess because they aren’t burning fossil fuels, at the moment. I will admit though, a great many car drivers are just as bad.

Leave a Reply