Share the Road. But How?

Most avid bicyclists have more than one tale of a close encounter with a motorist who does not care to—or does not know how to—safely share the road with a bicycle. The News and Observer reported here that a group of Orange County cyclists accused a pick-up truck driver of intentionally slamming on brakes in front of the group as they were driving down a rural two-lane road in June.  One of the cyclists fell from his bike and was injured, though not seriously. The cyclists pressed charges. Video footage recorded by a cyclist in the other Orange County depicting his close encounter with a pick-up truck and a Gatorade bottle hurled from its passenger window went viral in July. In the California case, the sheriff’s department recommended charges against both the truck passenger and the bicyclist, who was suspected of using offensive words in public that were likely to provide a violent reaction.

For their part, motorists complain of cyclists who ignore traffic laws and act oblivious to the presence of larger motorized vehicles, making it difficult to drive at a reasonable speed and avoid a collision.

Whether they like it or not, motorists and bicyclists have to share space.  Below are some of the rules they must follow.

Cyclists. Bicycles are vehicles for purposes of the state’s motor vehicles laws; thus, their riders generally are subject to the rules of the road and other provisions of Chapter 20.  G.S. 20-4.01(49).

This means that bicycles ridden on public streets and highways must be ridden on the right half of the roadway or in the right-hand lane of a multi-lane road if proceeding at less than the legal maximum speed limit (G.S. 20-146); bicycle riders must stop at stoplights and signs (G.S. 20-158); and bicycle riders may not pass vehicles on the right, unless the bicycle is being ridden in a separate lane (G.S. 20-149(a)).

In addition, bicycle riders, like other drivers, must signal before starting, stopping or turning from a direct line or changing lanes on street, highway, or public vehicular area—if the operation of any other vehicle may be affected by the movement. G.S. 20-154.  Hand signals as described in G.S. 20-154(d) suffice, and must be given continuously for the last 100 feet traveled before the stop or turn.

Motorcycles may be driven two abreast in a single lane, see G.S. 20-146.1, but no provision specifically authorizes—or prohibits—two-abreast cycling.  NC DOT punted on the issue in its 2004 Guide to NC Bicycle and Pedestrian Laws, noting the importance of riding “responsibly and courteously, so that cars may pass safely.”  (The guide is excellent, but it is out of date. One of the most notable changes is the amendment of the impaired driving statute, G.S. 20-138.1, to eliminate the exception for bicycles.)

Some provisions of Chapter 20 single out bicycles. G.S. 20-129(e), for instance, requires that bicycles used at night be equipped with a lighted lamp on the front that is visible from a distance of at least 300 feet and a reflex mirror or lamp on the back, exhibiting a red light visible from at least 200 feet. G.S. 20-171.2 prohibits bicycle racing on a highway unless the racing is part of an event approved by State or local authorities. The Child Bicycle Safety Act requires, while riding a bicycle on a public roadway, public bicycle path or other public right of way, that persons under 16 wear a helmet; that bicycle passengers who weigh less than 40 pounds or are less than 40 inches tall be seated in a separate restraining seat; that no person who is unable to maintain an erect, seated position be a passenger in a bicycle restraining seat; and that all other bicycle passengers be seated on saddle seats.  G.S. 20-171.7.

Motorists. Drivers of motor vehicles are, of course, subject to a host of rules set out in Chapter 20 of the General Statutes.  The rule most often implicated in connection with cyclists on the public roadways is the requirement that the driver of any vehicle overtaking another vehicle proceeding in the same direction (1) pass at least two feet to the left of the vehicle being passed and (2) not again drive to the right side of the highway until safely clear of the overtaken vehicle.  G.S. 20-149(a).  Drivers may not pass another vehicle proceeding in the same direction upon the crest of a grade or upon a curve in the highway where the driver’s view is obstructed within a distance of 500 feet.  G.S. 20-149(b). These rules do not apply on a street or highway that has two or more lanes of moving vehicles in each direction.  G.S. 20-150.1.  Presumably, the reference to “lane” in G.S. 20-150.1 encompasses lanes designated for bicycles.

In addition, the driver of a vehicle emerging from or entering an alley, building entrance, private road, or driveway must yield the right-of-way to any person riding a bicycle who is approaching on any sidewalk or walkway extending across such alley, building entrance, road, or driveway. G.S. 20-173.

Additional Precautions.

NC DOT offers these tips (among others) for drivers who encounter cyclists on the roads:

1. Wait until the cyclist has cleared the intersection before making a turn to the right or left.  The most common error for an automobile driver is to make a left turn directly into the path of an oncoming cyclist without seeing him until it is too late to stop.  Don’t make a right turn in front of a bicyclist you have just passed.  He or she may be forced to stop quickly and could lose control of the bicycle, causing a crash.

2. When passing a cyclist, slow down and make sure the rider is aware of your presence.  Leave plenty of room between the rider and your vehicle.  If there is no room to pass because traffic is approaching, wait until it has gone by, and then pass.

Drivers and cyclists might also do well to heed the timeless advice of Bill and Ted. (Or was that Abraham Lincoln?)

Be excellent to each other.

(And share the road.)