Everything You Ever Needed to Know About: Rules of the Road

Just like drivers, cyclists are expected to know and follow some basic rules of the road. They’re important to know because they’re the law, and also because they help keep you, the cyclist, safe.

Am I a Pedestrian or a Vehicle?

You, as a cyclist, fit in the same class as cars and trucks. You’re a vehicle, and as such, you’re expected to follow all the same rules of the road as an automobile driver is. This means riding on the road, obeying all traffic signs, and signaling where you intend to go. It also means giving pedestrians the right of way, just like a car would.

Do I Really Have to Ride on the Road?

In most places, since a bicycle is treated the same as an automobile, you will have to ride on the road. This can be intimidating, especially on highly trafficked roads, or roads without a bicycle lane, but with practice you’ll become accustomed to moving with the flow of traffic. Remember to keep to the right side of the lane that is farthest to the right and to ride in a straight, predictable line. This way, cars are able to pass you on the left easily without disrupting the flow of traffic too much. If you find that you need to make a left turn, be sure to make the appropriate signal, and wait for an opening in traffic to move to the left lane or turn lane. This can be tricky, and you may find yourself waiting a while for a big enough gap in traffic, but it’s best to play it safe, rather than to try and squeeze between cars.

What About Bike Lanes?

Bicycle lanes are a wonderful thing. As more and more Americans start cycling for exercise and commuting, more and more cities are giving them designated places to ride. There are a few important things to remember about bike lanes, however.

First: cars are never allowed in bicycle lanes, but you will still find some drivers who are careless, or who will cross the lane to make a turn or avoid an obstacle without first checking to make sure there are no cyclists in the bike lane. Always be aware when you are riding in a bike lane—the white lines on the road are only lines, not barriers to protect you from cars.

Second: Though cars are not allowed in bike lanes, bikes are allowed to leave the bike lane at any time. You may need to leave the lane to avoid a pothole, or to change lanes to make a left hand turn. Do so with caution, but know that you do have the right to leave the bike lane.

Third: It is especially important to know that you can leave the bike lane when the bicycle lane is also a parking lane. Unfortunately a very common accident called “getting doored” tends to happen when this is the case. If a person in a parked car doesn’t check for bikes, they may swing their car door open quickly, either hitting the cyclist (usually on the leg) or the cyclist may end up running into it! This usually results in the cyclist being thrown forward off the bike and getting pretty seriously injured. It is recommended that if you can, you should keep three feet between yourself and any parked cars. Always be aware of cars that have suddenly stopped on the side of the road (possibly to let out passengers), and pass them on the left. Be aware of cars that have just parked, and be sure to leave a safe distance.

Do Children Have to Ride on the Road?

Technically, there is no law that differentiates between where children and adults are allowed to ride. Having said that, I would never want to see a small child riding in fast traffic. To avoid a bad situation, I would advise the following:

First: Always ride with your child. Children are short, even on bicycles, and cars may not see them, but they will see you. If there are two adults, ride single file, with an adult in front of and behind the child. If there is only one adult, ride behind the child. This allows you to keep an eye on the child and to stay close.

Second: Take smart routes. It’s not wise to ride with a child on a busy street. If you’re trying to get from one place to the next, the best option is a bicycle path, if there is one. Otherwise, look for back roads and bicycle lanes. If you’re out riding just for enjoyment, why not try a park area that is free of cars?

Third: If you find yourself and your child on a busy road or somewhere that you aren’t comfortable having your child ride, play it safe, and get off your bicycles and walk them on the sidewalk. It is better to be safe and a little bit late for your destination than to be in a dangerous situation on the road.

How do I Signal Where I Intend to Go?

Cars signal so that other motorists know where they’re going. For example, when making a lane change from the right to the left lane, a driver will use his left turn signal. This allows cars traveling in the left lane to see that there will be another car joining them, and to speed up or slow down to avoid hitting that car, if need be, so an accident can be prevented. Signaling is important for cyclists, too. All signals are made with the cyclists left hand, so that they are easy for traffic to see (remember, you’re on the right side of the road, so your left hand will be easiest for cars to see). There is an alternate method for right turns that uses the right hand. I sometimes find using the alternate right turn signal to be beneficial because many drivers aren’t familiar with the turn signals used by cyclists, and it is sometimes more direct to use the same hand as the direction you will be turning.

It Takes a Lot of Work to Stop and Start Again on My Bike. Do I Have to Stop for Every Stop Sign?

Just like motorists, cyclists legally have to obey all road signs. This means stopping at stop signs and red lights, yielding to pedestrians in a crosswalk, and obeying any other signs you might see. In fact, if you don’t obey traffic signs, you might find a police officer writing you a ticket! Just as with cars, you can be cited for running a stop sign on your bike.