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The Importance of Cyclists Following the Rules of the Road

Updated on August 27, 2015

Cycling has many lifelong benefits

I have an uncle that has been involved in cycling in one form or another since he was about 7 years old. It started with BMX, evolved into street races, mountain bikes, and eventually into working for Trek Bicycle in Waterloo, Wisconsin. Most of my life growing up, he talked about the importance of sharing the road and giving cyclists plenty of room, while maintaining a safe traffic pattern. So I've always watched out for cyclists since I started driving. I think most people do.

Now that I'm older, nothing has changed regarding this. Our city has embraced our large cycling community who is heavily involved in RAGBRAI (see link below). The city has spent money and time making sure that cyclists in our downtown area feel safe and comfortable riding through town. We have several bike trails, nature trails and outdoor mountain biking trails to provide a safe, off-road place for cyclists.

New bike lanes in downtown Cedar Rapids

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When Sharing the Road is Taken Advantage Of

With all of the improvements that our city is making to make downtown and arterial streets safer for cyclists, we still have an over-abundance of people who don't obey the rules and make the streets unsafe for themselves AND other motorists.

To name just a few of the rules I've seen broken by cyclists, I've seen stop signs being run, red lights being run, swerving between cars, inappropriate use of the green bike lanes, riding on the sidewalks when bike lanes are clearly marked, among others. In these cases, cyclists are endangering their own lives as well as motorists who may need to brake quickly or swerve to miss them. What happens then?

Your Two Cents

Thinking as a driver, how often have you had to quickly change your traffic path to avoid cyclists clearly breaking traffic laws?

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Bicyclists have the same rights and duties as the operators of vehicles, except provisions that have no application.

— Iowa Bicycle Coalition

Green Bike Lanes

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Accidents are not always the vehicle driver's fault

In preparing for this article, I did some looking into stats regarding recent accidents and fatalities regarding cyclists with and without motor vehicle involvement.

One site I looked at, Iowa Bicycle Coalition, cited several instances of fatalities where the cyclist ran a stop sign, was in the center of the roadway, or was not wearing reflective clothing, lights or other identifying safety features after dark. In the latter of the cases, the driver of the vehicle did not see the cyclist until the headlights registered movement. At that point, it was to late to avoid the cyclist.

In other cases, there has been alcohol involved. The NHTSA cites that in 2013, in 24% of pedalcyclist fatalities, the cyclists had BACs of .01 g/dL or higher and 20% had BACs of .08 g/ dL or higher. This means that these cyclists didn't think that drunk driving rules applied to them, or they thought that everyone else would watch out for them. Just as getting behind the wheel or your car is dangerous, so is cycling while intoxicated.

What this all comes down to is that there are a large population of cyclists that do not correctly follow the traffic rules for which they are responsible. What happens is that cyclists are much more likely to lose in a contest between a bicycle and a motor vehicle.

For more information on Rules and Data

"Bicyclists are considered vehicle operators; they are required to obey the same rules of the road as other vehicle operators, including obeying traffic signs, signals, and lane markings. When cycling in the street, cyclists must ride in the same direction as traffic."

Iowa Bicycle Coalition

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

NHTSA 2013 Bicycle Injury & Fatality Data

How do we make this better?

There are a variety of ways that cyclists can reduce the amount of injuries and fatalities due to accidents with motor vehicles. While not all accidents are due to cyclists not following laws and common sense rules of thumb, thinking before jumping on the bike can help to reduce those numbers.

If you're not sure about a rule or law involving your bicycle, check out some of the helpful links above. They outline Iowa's laws regarding bicycle safety and regulations. In the meantime, here are some helpful hints to keep you safe.

  • Always wear your helmet. They are designed to take the impact in the event of a crash. Otherwise your head will absorb all of it.
  • Wear light-colored, reflective clothing while riding at dusk. Lights or reflectors should always be worn in the dark.
  • NEVER, ever drink before cycling. This impairs balance, reaction time and vision, among other things. The more you drink, the higher your risk for accident or crash.
  • Stay in the bike lanes on your busier streets. If no bike lanes are present, stay to the right with the flow of traffic. Always observe bike lane rules. Look them up if you don't know them
  • Observe the same traffic laws as if you were driving. If you wouldn't run a red light or stop sign in your car, don't do it on your bike. Learn hand signals for turning as well.

Every little bit matters. Observing the rules of the road saves your life, and keeps you around to enjoy another beautiful day of cycling.

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    • bradmasterOCcal profile image

      bradmasterOCcal 23 months ago from Orange County California

      Here in California, in both Northern and Southern California the serious bicycle riders put on their helmets and dump their iq. The ones that I come across don't believe that they have any rules or laws that apply to them.

      It also applies to Motorcycle Riders on the freeways.

      This is not categorical but enough to make it scary.

    • cygirl7576 profile image
      Author

      cygirl7576 23 months ago from Cedar Rapids

      The majority of really bad riders that we see here are not serious riders, but people who use their bicycle as their only option for transportation. They ride down the streets the wrong way and run stop signs and lights, trying to find the fastest way to get where they need to be. I also see a lot of kids and teenagers do this, too.

      It's super frustrating when you pull up to a 4-way stop and get ready to take your turn, only to have a bike speed through in front of you, narrowly missing hitting it.

    • bradmasterOCcal profile image

      bradmasterOCcal 23 months ago from Orange County California

      cyirl17576

      Not the case in CA, they all think they are training for Tour De France.

    • Alessio Ganci profile image

      Alessio Ganci 22 months ago from Italy

      The problem is that most people believe traffic rules apply only to motor vehicles. But everyone who goes on the road, independently from his vehicle, shall respect traffic rules.

    • cygirl7576 profile image
      Author

      cygirl7576 22 months ago from Cedar Rapids

      I just saw a woman run a stop sign on her bike on my way to work this morning. So frustrating!

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