By Ken Christensen and Russ Hymas —
Unless you’re also a cyclist, I imagine it is quite difficult for you to understand what it is like to ride a bicycle on Utah roads amongst traffic. It is a vulnerable feeling riding along with 3,000-pound vehicles speeding past you. I’m sure you have seen incidents of dangerous cycling, and am equally as confident you’ve witnessed dangerous drivers put cyclists in harm’s way. Some may use this to justify an increasing level of aggression between drivers and cyclists, but for the most part I have found that only in rare situations do the drivers have a real malice towards cyclists. In most instances, drivers simply lack the consideration and appreciation for the plight of cyclists.
Cyclists are parents, children, teachers, doctors, students, and tax-paying citizens just like you. We love exercising amongst the backdrop of our majestic mountains, but our ultimate goal (just like you as a driver) is to return home safely to our loved ones. The text or Instagram feed loses importance when you consider this ultimate goal, doesn’t it? Drivers need to see cyclists. We try our best to be seen by wearing bright colors and using flashing lights, but none of that will help if drivers are distracted or unaware of their surroundings.
Cycling is one of the fastest growing sports and mode of transportation in the United States – especially among women. Road biking is not a passing fad – it is here to stay. So the quicker we embrace and adapt, the better it will be for everyone. But for bike safety to be sustainable, I ask you – and all other drivers – to recognize these key rules and recommendations:
- It is against the law for a Utah driver to be within 3 feet of a cyclist. If the cyclist is riding in the middle of the lane, it means it isn’t safe to pass and he/she will move over when there is enough room for both of you.
- Cyclists take much longer to stop than cars do. If you pass us and turn immediately in front of us, we’re going to be a in a very bad situation.
- We can legally ride two-abreast as long as you can safely go around us and we’re not impeding traffic.
- You can legally cross over a double yellow line to pass a cyclist and make sure there is plenty of room between your car and the cyclist.
- Cyclists often use the left turn lane when turning left. This is legal, and often the safest option. Keep an eye out for us and slow down when we are moving over from the right-hand shoulder.
- A cyclist may be in your lane of travel to avoid unsafe conditions in the shoulder, to pass another bicycle, vehicle or object on the shoulder, or to travel straight through an intersection just left of vehicles turning right. Please be patient.
- When parking, check your door mirror and look behind you before opening the door to make sure a cyclist isn’t approaching.
- When stopped at an intersection, you may see cyclists utilize the shoulder of the roadway to pass the line of cars and stop at the front of the intersection. The law allows this and ensures that cars see the cyclists crossing the intersection. It also keeps drivers from having to wait behind cyclists that take much longer to get up to speed once the light turns green.
- Please remember that if you collide with a cyclist, the likely result is scratches or dents on your car. For the cyclist, a collision could mean losing his/her life.
As citizens, we are greatly concerned with our air quality and congested roads. Cycling helps with both these. It is also beneficial in addressing our nation’s health crisis, as cycling helps fight obesity and heart disease. So when you see a cyclist, instead of becoming frustrated or impatient, applaud them for doing their part to achieve these goals that are important to all of us.
We can all make a difference on the road if, instead of clashing, we look out for and communicate with one another. And that comes down to being respectful. As cyclists, if someone we are riding with does something dangerous, we have a word with them. Often, they don’t even realize they have done it and nine times out of ten, they apologize. I hope you, and other drivers, will offer cyclists the same courtesy.
In the end, we should see everyone as a person, not as a “crazy cyclist” or a “dumb driver” or whatever. We must respect each and treat each other with courtesy – because like it or not, we are ultimately sharing the road together.
[Editor’s Note: Some of the laws mentioned above only apply in Utah, but the message for drivers is the same everywhere.]
Ken Christensen and Russ Hymas are avid cyclists and Utah attorneys at UtahBicycleLawyers.com. Their legal practice is devoted to helping cyclists injured in collisions with motor vehicles. They are authors of the Utah Bicycle Accident Handbook and are nationally recognized legal experts on cycling laws and safety.