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 Highway Administration 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.

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46 Responses to “Bikes and cars: Both have a right to the road”

  1. Bruce Hobbs

    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.

    • Paul

      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.

  2. BKMart

    Yes, they both have a right to the road, and both MUST OBEY ALL TRAFFIC LAWS!!!

    • Tom Dittman

      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.

      • Old Nam Vet

        I did see a young guy riding a bike and talking on a cell at the same time. Not paying a lot of attention to those riders around him.

      • Matt

        A law is a law and they apply to bicyclists as well as motorists. If a bicyclist breaks the law it is just as likely that someone can be killed, but generally it is the bicyclist. They should be allowed to share the roads and they should also obey the laws that apply to them. Police should enforce the laws equally.

  3. Jeff DeWitt

    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.

    • Steve

      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.

    • T Dittman

      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.

    • Kelliann

      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.

    • mal

      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.

    • bryan

      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.

    • April

      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.

    • Joe

      Check to see where the money for roads comes from. A VERY large part, if not most comes from local, state and federal taxes. We pay fuel taxes to help cover the damage we do to roads with our cars and trucks.

  4. Dan

    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.

    • mal

      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.

      • Matt

        “Ed Beighe, who mans the Arizona bike blog Azbikelaw, crunched some numbers on fault from his state and found that 44 percent of fatalities from bike-car crashes in 2009 were determined to be the fault of the cyclist, while 56 percent were the fault of a motor vehicle driver. The most common collision was when a driver struck a cyclist from behind.

        The Minnesota Department of Public Safety published data on contributing factors in bike-car crashes. It found that in 2009, cyclists were at fault in 49 percent of crashes, while drivers were at fault in 51 percent. Failing to yield to right of way was the most frequent cause of the snarls.

        And the Washington Post recently mentioned a 2004 report from DC showing cyclists more likely than motorists to be at fault in a crash.”

        From NPR. Not my own. Curious where you got your 79% Seems near 50/50 is about the right ratio.

      • JEFF

        Yeah right, bicyclists never ride 3 abreast? Look at that picture and tell me that’s my a common sight on the road. They clog the road in some situations, bikers have the same rights to the road, but hardly ever see a biker be considerate. I know a couple of bikers and they are good drivers but one they get on the bike, seems like road rules don’t apply and expects others to watch for him.

      • Kutch

        I have seen them riding 4 abreast coming into our village on a 40 MPH road. We honk and yell every year for them to move over and it doesn’t change their riding habits. And the auto operators become extremely upset. Yes it is a no passing zone none the less and auto operators break the law by passing the cyclist’s that refuse to move over. It’s very irritating every Spring and Summer and we try to avoid this road as much as possible on the weekends when the bicyclist traffic is heaviest.

  5. Kelliann

    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.]

    • Terry

      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

      • mal

        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.

        • Larry

          “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.)

      • April

        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.

    • Bill Vernasden

      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?

    • John P.

      Bikers in our area are some of the most obnoxious road hogs I’ve ever seen. Our roads are made for trucks and cars. If the spandex crowd gets brushed off the road or worse I don’t care.

  6. LWerner

    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!”

  7. Jeff Scott

    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.

  8. Raymond Reiss

    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.

  9. Larry

    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.

  10. Ralph Ware

    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.

  11. David

    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.

  12. Pete

    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.

    • Matt Groves

      Just so everyone knows, the statute that deals with impeding the flow of traffic only applies to motor vehicles. A bicycle moving as fast as possible is not impeding traffic, even if drivers have to wait a few seconds until it is safe to pass.

  13. Kevin

    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.

  14. nancy hahn

    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.

  15. Flyman

    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.

  16. Robert

    I can’t understand why bikers are allowed to ride on a single lane road where the speed limit is 50 mph. My commute route home takes me on such a road and the traffic backup caused be cars slowing down to go over the double yellow lines to get around them is crazy! The funny thing, is that there is a paved (walking/bike) path on this road, that I never see bikers use. But these guys on their $3000 bikes ride side by side in the road every day.

  17. Teresa Neal

    I WAS a very bike-friendly driver until my car got swarmed by Critical Mass. I was driving a hybrid, giving a person who didn’t have a car a ride, at 10:30 at night in a high-crime area. I am a little old lady. I did not know what Critical Mass was nor did I know its tactics. All I knew was that suddenly my car was surrounded by shouting, rowdy, probably drunk, cyclists, who purposely do not leave any gaps so that cars can proceed. Again, had I known their tactics, I would have pulled off the road and waited until their entire three-block parade had gotten well away from the area. I am quite sure they were getting their jollies by surrounding and swarming cars and seeing if they could aggravate some cars because car drivers are evil etc. They just made a much LESS bicycle-friendly driver out of me and my passenger. I did not know if my passenger would get out and start something with them. I did not know what was going on or why this group ride was being so rowdy and not letting me turn. It all happened so fast. One day Critical Mass is going to swarm the wrong car. I have some friends who ride with Critical Mass and asked them what was up. That’s how I finally found out what their tactics are and why. They don’t call themselves a parade or a protest so that they don’t have to get permits and/or notify police of their route. They don’t want to notify police of their route because they don’t want to be headed off at the pass and caught running red lights, swarming cars, and cycling drunk. This group harasses cars on purpose because they think it’s safer to make a point by riding in a huge group that purposely does not leave any gaps. In my town, an organized ride was stopped and ticketed for not stopping at red lights…but Critical Mass is much larger than that organized group. Critical Mass riders are purposely rowdy and from what I have read and observed, drink on their outings. Again, I WAS a very bike-friendly driver. If Critical Mass’ aim is to raise awareness, they need to print and hand out literature describing their aims. I think their aim is just to harass cars for jollies.

  18. Tommer

    This isn’t about Taxes, it’s about safety. Frankly painting a ‘bicycle lane’ on a road for motor vehicles isn’t safe anyway. Bike lanes should not have cars on them at all, and so would also wear a lot slower than roads do (needing less maintenance). I also drive a Motorcycle, and am appalled to see other Motorcyclists driving like idiots with apparent contempt for traffic law as I am to see bicyclists (mostly ‘jay-driving’ or driving thru red lights, or ‘expecting’ special treatment when cutting off cars and weaving in traffic). The big problem with enforcement is that it can be very difficult to catch the offender till they get tangled up with an accident. Bike lanes should be only for bikes (perhaps also motorcycles, as this tends to reduce injuries typical of 4,000 Lb vehicle bumping 300 Lb. vehicle). We need to push our communities to support bike trails – and keep them separate from Automobile roads. It wouldn’t hurt to teach safe cycling in 3rd or 4th grade as well.

  19. Anti-Bicycle

    If bicycalists want to be on the road with cars they should be required to pay for insurance and a bycycle liscense that shows they have had the proper training and are aware of the rules of the road.

    In my town bicycalists think they own the road and have absolutely no respect for the cars. Even on the slowest roads bicycles cannot keep up to the speed limit, this endangers the motorist and bicyclist.

    I would vote to get them completely off of main roads and onto backstreets and sidewalks where they have to watch out for someone else for a change. Bicycles do not belong on the road with cars, they simply cannot keep up, which impeeds the progress of cars, which are what the roads were created for to begin with.

  20. Caryl Anne

    I always liked seeing bikes on our rural roads until about ten years ago when several groups formed and began using the roads as a training route. The terrain here is very hilly and the roads are typically narrow with lots of blind curves and no guide rails. The groups are usually about 10-15 bikers and they ride several abreast taking up most of the road. I have never seen them stop for a stop sign and they do not move into single file when a motor vehicle approaches from any angle. I don’t mind sharing the roads–I just expect the bikers to do the same. And yes, we have had several accidents over the last few years.

  21. Jimmy Wilson

    Stupid I mean stupid. The people on bikes are mean and do not respect the drivers of cars and trucks but you want to have the same rights as people driving cars? Here’s a new one why don’t you obey the laws of the road first then the respect of the people driving a car and paying for the roads you ride on for free will be earned. You cannot have it both ways. You want it both ways but you will not earn it. I can guarantee if you pull out in front of me and I have a load on my truck you better be able to get up to 55 real fast on the highway because I will not kill myself to save you or your $15000 bike with the special tires. Move on or move out of the way and ride when there is no traffic.

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