A two-way street
When it comes to rules of the road, drivers also have responsibilities
About 10 or so years ago, I was riding my bike on North Main in Durango when I got hit by a car pulling out of a hotel parking lot. A year or so later, I got hit by another car coming out of a business on 11th Street and Main. A couple months after that, I was hit by a truck turning into a gas station off the 9th Street bridge.
I was lucky in that they were all very minor incidents, and I walked away just a little shaky with scrapes and bruises and a bent derailleur.
An acquaintance of mine was riding his bike when he was rear-ended on a highway by a vehicle going 50 miles an hour. He flew an estimated 35 feet into the air and survived by a helmet and divine intervention.
Several weeks ago in Boulder, 17-year-old USA Cycling hopeful Magnus White was killed when he was struck by a vehicle on a training ride near his home. A few days later, a 10-year-old boy was struck and killed while he was riding his bike in Fort Collins. According to the CDC, nearly 1,000 cyclists die and more than 130,000 are injured by vehicles on the road in the United States every year.
And the big question is always, whose fault is it?
It’s the question everyone asks themselves and each other when a cyclist or pedestrian gets killed. And weirdly enough, the blame usually goes on the non-motorist, because the United States loves to blame the victim. The verbiage often used in media skirts around the fault of the driver and calls these incidents “accidents.” Sure, I assume the truck that turned into me at the gas station, or the person who hit Magnus White didn’t really mean to do it, and I’m sure the person who hit the 10-year-old wasn’t thinking about murder that day. But killing is killing.
However, the questions rattle on:“Was the cyclist wearing a helmet?” “Did he stop at that stop sign?” “Where was that kid’s parents?” “Did she look before she crossed?” “Were they in the bike lane?” “What was the cyclist doing wrong?” “How could they have better protected themselves?”
Sure, it is true – and I have seen it far too many times with my own eyes – cyclists can do some really dumb things. I’ve seen cyclists blow through stop signs without looking. I’ve seen cyclists turn in front of moving vehicles. Heck, I just saw a gal riding her e-bike on Main Avenue going the opposite direction of traffic! All these things are illegal and dangerous, but guess what? In most cases, the only person they are putting in harm’s way is themselves.
When I see a car run stop lights or stop signs, however, or when I see them turn out in front of cyclists or speeding in and out of traffic and driving in the bike lane, they are attempting murder.
So, when I get questions from annoyed vehicle drivers to “clear up bicycle laws” so cyclists can be “safe,” I get slightly uncomfortable. In all actuality, what I’d really like is for someone to clear up driving laws, because from what I’ve seen, that’s what we should really be talking about.
For example, proper use of turn signals. Or safely switching lanes. Or driving the speed limit. Or stopping at a stop sign and looking both ways.
Trust me, I watch vehicle drivers daily very intently, because I have to in order to stay safe. I can’t tell you how many times A DAY I see drivers not stop at stop signs or turn right without looking right. Or steamroll through a neighborhood where kids live. I see vehicles parked in the bike lane – last summer I had to quickly merge into traffic because a cop was parked in the bike lane. It is a rare moment when I see a vehicle’s turn signal, and I know this because vehicle drivers usually turn right in front of me.
So, while I appreciate when folks ask me about bicycle laws, and I do genuinely think cyclists should brush up on safe practices on the road (hopefully after I get this off my chest, we can explore bicycle laws at a later date), I will take this opportunity to remind folks about basic driving laws instead.
As quoted per the official Colorado Driver Handbook:
• SIGNALING: Failure to signal is a traffic violation. Before making any turn, whether onto another roadway, into a parking lot, into another lane of traffic or leaving a parked position, it is extremely important that you signal. Your signal lets other drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians know your intentions. In urban areas, you must signal continuously for 100 feet before making a turn or lane change. On four lane highways where the posted speed limit is faster than 40 mph, you must signal for 200 feet before making a turn or lane change. A typical rule of thumb is to have your turn signal on for at least 3 seconds before making a turn or changing lanes. If your vehicle’s turn signals do not work, you must use hand signals. End your hand signal before starting to turn so that you can complete the turn with both hands on the wheel.
• SPEED: Speed is the greatest factor influencing the severity of a crash. Many fatal collisions on Colorado highways involve motorists driving too fast. Limits: It is important to slow down in certain conditions, for example, during poor weather, or near railroad tracks, pedestrians or bicyclists, animals, and school buses.
• DRIVING UNDER THE INFLUENCE: When you drive while impaired, safe driving is not possible, and you are more likely to take risks such as speeding or turning abruptly. Alcohol is a depressant drug that reduces brain function, which impairs thinking, reasoning and muscle coordination. Depressants may slow reflexes and reaction times while reducing your ability to make the decisions necessary to safely operate a motor vehicle. As the amount of drugs in your body increases, your judgment worsens and skills decrease.
• PASSING: Before deciding to pass another vehicle, including a bicyclist, judge whether you will have enough time and room to pass safely by observing the traffic ahead, beside and behind you. If you have enough time and space to pass, begin by making a lane change, as directed above. Accelerate past the vehicle you wish to pass. When you can see both headlights of the vehicle you passed in the rearview mirror, get back into your previous lane. If passing a bicyclist, you must have a minimum of 3 feet of space between the outermost part of your vehicle, including any projections such as mirrors or trailers, and the bicyclist. You can briefly cross a solid yellow line when there is no oncoming traffic and you have a clear view ahead. Be aware of wind blasts that can knock a bicyclist off their bike, and safely pass by giving them more space on rural roadways, when operating a large vehicle or driving in windy conditions.
Do not pass if: you cannot safely return to the right-hand side before coming within 200 feet of an oncoming vehicle, including a bicyclist; if you cannot safely return to the right-hand side before a solid yellow line begins; on a curve or hill where your view is obstructed; within 100 feet of an intersection, railroad crossing, bridge or tunnel when your view is obstructed; or unless you can allow a 3-foot buffer between the bicyclist and your vehicle.
• BIKE LANES: Bike lane users have the right-of way in a bike lane and drivers are prohibited from driving, idling or parking in or otherwise obstructing a bike lane. A bike lane extends through an intersection regardless of whether paint connects the bike lane on either side.
• BICYCLES: Bicycles on the road are considered vehicles and have many of the same rights and responsibilities as motor vehicles. Drivers must yield the right-of-way to bicyclists in a designated bike lane when merging with or crossing a bike lane to turn. Bicyclists riding on a sidewalk or crosswalk have the same rights and responsibilities as pedestrians.
These laws are just a few of the laws I see broken by vehicle drivers on a daily basis that put cyclists at risk of being killed or injured, but there are about 30 more pages of great information to help clear up driving laws to keep cyclists safe. So I very politely ask, if you are a vehicle driver who gets annoyed with cyclists who break the law, and you ask me to clear up biking laws to keep cyclists “safe,” please, at the same time, brush up on driving laws to help keep us all alive.
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