A common misconception about cyclists is that we are in the way of drivers. In fact, motorists often underestimate just how quickly a bike can travel—a mistake that can result in right-of-way violations and crashes. If your bike is the fastest vehicle on the road in the three common scenarios below, here’s how to ride it safely and legally.
Photo: vetta/Getty Images
1 Rush Hour
When cars are lined up at a red light, it’s tempting to roll past them on the right, either on the shoulder or in the traffic lane. But is it legal? You might logically think so. If we must ride to the rightso that cars traveling at a faster clip can pass us, we shouldn’t be required to merge with a traffic jam when we’re the speedier vehicle. Unfortunately, many state laws do not specifically address the question, and police officers have been known to ticket cyclists for this. In Oregon and Illinois, however, the law specifically permits cyclists to pass on the right if they can do it safely. Even if the law allows right-hand passing, drivers might not expect you. You still need to watch out for car doors opening andmotorists making turns.
2 In the Country
It’s perfectly legal to overtake slow-moving vehicles such as farm machines or mail trucks, provided that you pass on the left and don’t cross the double-yellow line unless your state allows it. If the vehicle is horse-drawn, take care not to spook the animal. Before you get too close, ring your bell gently or call out a friendly greeting. When you pass, be sure to give the horse plenty of space.
3 At the Bus Stop
When a school bus is stopped with its red flashing lights on, all vehicles–including bicycles–are required to stop until the lights stop flashing. The purpose of the law is to protect schoolchildren who may be crossing the street as they get on and off the bus.
Q: If a traffic light won’t trigger for me, is it okay to ride through the intersection?
A: First, try triggering the light by placing a metal part of your bike close to the sensor in the road. If that doesn’t work, some states, including Pennsylvania and Tennessee, allow cyclists to treat a red light like a stop sign. No such law in your state? You can go to the crosswalk and wait for the pedestrian signal.
Research and assistance by Rick Bernardi, JD