Friday, August 27, 2010

Sharing the Road: Cars & Bikes

Contributed by Norm Nyhuis, Safety Trainer, Evergreen Safety Council

I live in a rural area. The two lane road from town to our home winds its way for about 5 miles through pastures, wooded areas and homes of all types and sizes. The road continues past our home into the next county and for many more miles before coming to the next town. As such, it is a popular road for other than motor vehicles; folks often ride their horses along the shoulder of the road, and bicyclists singly and in groups, are often seen. A friend told me of an event that happened this last weekend that captured my attention.

He was driving his pickup along the road, in an area where the road is quite narrow, has blind curves and is clearly marked with a double yellow center line as a “no passing” zone. The lane is a typical rural road width of approximately 10 to 11 ft. Bicyclists were riding in tandem order, but traveling significantly slower than the posted speed limit of 35 mph. My friend said he slowed to about 15 mph as he approached the two bicycles. The rearmost of the two riders pulled as far to the right as possible at this point in the road – there is a steep drop off, just past the guard-rail which is located about 2 ft to the right of the lane side paint stripe (fog stripe). The lead rider, however, refused to pull over to allow the pick-up to pass, but instead remained in the left most portion of the lane, near the center line and slowed down even more.

As the two bicycles and my friend’s pickup slowly made their way around the blind curve, they finally came to a place where my friend could see around the curve. There was no on-coming traffic, but, by this time, two other cars were also following close behind.

The double yellow lane stripes ended at about this location, and the bicycle rider moved slightly to the right. My friend moved over the center line to pass the bicycle when, unexpectedly, the bicyclist again moved back to the left side of the lane. Even with abrupt action, my friend could not avoid the bicyclist and struck the rider on the left arm and shoulder with the right side rear view mirror of the pick-up. The bicyclist tumbled to the ground in the middle of the lane.

After finding a location where the road is wide enough to allow a safe turn-around, my friend came back to the fallen bicyclist’s location. Thankfully, the following cars had stopped, and the fallen bicyclist had only sustained a scrape on his arm. When my friend got out of his pickup the fallen bicyclist repeated yelled at him, “. . . . I have equal rights to use the road!”

How would you assess this situation? Who, if anyone was responsible for this collision? And lastly, what is the law about bicycles and motor vehicles sharing the road?

RCW 46.61.755 Traffic laws apply to persons riding bicycles.

(1) Every person riding a bicycle upon a roadway shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this chapter, except as to special regulations in RCW 46-61-750 through 46.61.780. Section 750 says, “ . . . It is a traffic infraction for any person to do any act forbidden or fail to perform any act required by . . .” the sections of the RCW that apply to bicycles. 46.61.758 requires the use of hand signals for turns or stopping, 46.61.760 essentially prohibits riding “double” except on two-seat bikes. 46.61.765 prohibits clinging to or being propelled by holding on to a moving motor vehicle.

RCW 46.61.770 Riding on roadways and bicycle paths.

(1) Every person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at a rate of speed less than the normal flow of traffic at the particular time and place shall ride as near to the right side of the right through lane as is safe except as may be appropriate while preparing to make or while making turning movements, or while overtaking and passing another bicycle or vehicle proceeding in the same direction. A person operating a bicycle upon a roadway or highway other than a limited-access highway, which roadway or highway carries traffic in one direction only and has two or more marked traffic lanes, may ride as near to the left side of the left through lane as is safe. A person operating a bicycle upon a roadway may use the shoulder of the roadway or any specially designated bicycle lane if such exists. (2) Persons riding bicycles upon a roadway shall not ride more than two abreast except on paths or parts of roadways set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles.

The above RCW’s make it very clear that bicycles may share the road – they have equal access, BUT with that privilege comes responsibility to ride in a safe manner that does not put the bicyclist or other motorists in danger, and per 46.61.770 does not impede the normal flow of motor vehicle traffic on the roadway.

Divers of motor vehicles also have the responsibility to look out for all other persons sharing the road, regardless of means of transport – horseback riding, bicycling or simply walking. The lessons learned from this event: be patient, and be courteous to other road users so we all can share the road, safely.

What have been your experiences when sharing the road?


  1. The cyclist who rode far to the left side of the lane was clearly in the wrong. He should have kept as far right as possible, allowing the truck and other cars to pass as soon as the yellow center line stopped and allowed them to pass.
    This kind of cyclist (and I am a full time cyclist-I sold my car) really irks me. A driver has reason to be angered by this kind of conduct, and makes it harder for cyclists to be accepted as users of road along with cars and trucks. Come on cyclists, grow up.

  2. Thanks for your comments, Sandlin! I agree; ALL road users need to abide by the rules for the safety of ALL. I would think a cyclist would be especially aware, as the physics of a collision between a ton or two of steel and an otherwise un-protected human body are pretty well stacked against the human. Thanks again for sharing your comment.

    1. Road accidents can occur due to various reasons. They have become a common occurrence today. If we all follow traffic rules then it will better for us.

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