Sharing the Road with Cyclists

Take extra precautions for everyone’s safety.

Safe driving starts with mutual respect and consideration among all parties on the road. Motorists and cyclists share the same rights and must develop an understanding about safe driving practices. Just because a car is physically larger than a bicycle does not mean its driver is more entitled to the road than the cyclist—and just because a bicycle is more nimble than a car doesn’t mean its operator can bypass basic laws.

There were 618 deaths among cyclists in accidents in 2010, which accounted for 2 percent of all traffic fatalities that year, and an additional 52,000 cyclists were injured, according to the most recent, available data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

The following are safety recommendations for automobile drivers and bicyclists, courtesy of the League of American Bicyclists and SafetyXChange, an online community in which ideas about safety practices are shared. The group’s advisory board includes John Henshaw, former head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

For motorists:

Keep a safe distance. Smaller vehicles like bikes can stop quickly and abruptly. At night, they’re more difficult to see, even with reflectors and headlights, so it’s challenging to determine your distance. Err on the side of caution.

Always anticipate. Cyclists often require both hands to control the bike, so they sometimes can’t use hand signals when turning. Be prepared for unexpected shifts.

Pass with care. When it’s clear to pass, allow plenty of room in case the cyclist strays from his or her lane. Many state laws specify at least three feet of clearance.

Recognize their rights. Cyclists have the same rights to the road as drivers, regardless of their speed.

For cyclists:

Know the law. Learn your state traffic rules and abide by them. You have the same right to the road as cars, and you also must practice the same responsibilities and follow local traffic codes. That means obeying traffic signals and stop signs. (The League keeps a searchable database of Smart Cycling classes here.)

Increase visibility. Wear bright colors and use reflective devices and safety flags. For the front of your bike, white lights work well. For the back, try a red light.

Find the proper fit. Fatalities often occur because a bike is too large or small for the cyclist to control.

Don’t hog the road. Intentionally crowding the lane may unnerve a motorist. When riding as a group, form a single-file line instead of cruising side-by-side. Don’t ride on sidewalks, which are for pedestrians.

Be predictable. Try to stay in a straight line. Signal your turns when you can, and check behind you before turning or changing lanes.

Protection is key. Never, ever ride without a helmet.

If you’re over 55, you may lower the chances of having an accident—and pay less for car insurance—by completing a Nationwide-approved defensive driving class.