Road Rights- How to Keep Your Group Rides Legal
Etiquette tip No. 1: Give traffic room to pass. (Michael Robertson)
Some tips on keeping the long arm of the law away from your ride.
By Bob Mionske
Cyclists like to ride in packs for many reasons—camaraderie, training, to hide from the wind. But packs of cyclists sometimes irritate other road users, to the point that some communities try to regulate group rides.
In 2007, the New York City police department required groups of 50 or more cyclists to secure a parade permit. Cyclists challenged the rule in court, but their lawsuit was dismissed. It’s not just huge, Critical Mass–style rides that are coming under scrutiny—even your local shop ride could be at risk. In 2009, the Citizens for Safety Coalition of Iowa circulated a petition urging the legislature to keep cyclists off farm-to-market roads.
Why is this happening?
For one thing, some people believe roads are exclusively for motorized traffic, and they probably won’t like us no matter what we do. But other motorists will judge us based on how we interact with them, and we’re more likely to disregard the laws when we ride en masse than when we pedal by ourselves. Riding in a pack allows us to feel less personal responsibility and provides some anonymity.
There’s also the element of competition—sometimes the hammer goes down and the ride becomes an uncontrolled race. If you yield the right of way or stop at a light, you may end up riding alone. You have a fraction of a second to decide—not the best scenario for making choices that might affect drivers, pedestrians, and other road users.
The better an impression we give others, the easier it will be to defend our rights. Here’s how to help keep the peace:
—Ride single file or two abreast, depending on the law in your state.
—Follow all traffic laws. Signal turns and don’t blow through stop signs.
—As tempting as it is, don’t pass slow-moving traffic on the right. It’s illegal in most states, and you could easily ride into the path of a right-turning car. Instead, pass on the left (if there’s a passing lane) or get in line behind them.
—Try to keep any conversations with drivers civil, even if the motorist is in the wrong.
Research and assistance by Rick Bernardi, J.D.
Also see: 9 Paceline Rules
This article, How to Keep Your Group Rides Legal, was originally published on Bicycling on September 18, 2011.
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