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

9 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.

    • 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.

  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.

  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.]

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