“Share The Road”: A One-Sided Plea Or A Mutual Commitment?

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It’s finally that time of year—when the sun decides to stay out a bit longer, when the weather is consistently warm, and, if you’re anything like this former competitive turned recreational cyclist, when the itch to get out on a bike gets to be almost unbearable. Of course, I’ll only participate in the Tour de France in my dreams. But this has never stopped me from getting out, hitting the hills, and subjecting my mind and body to needless pain and suffering for the simple sake of doing so.

In my decade-plus of cycling experience, I have heard just about every complaint about cyclists that exists. And although some progress has been made generally, the cyclist-motorist relationship still remains adversarial. Motorists are easily annoyed or frustrated with cyclists.

I can certainly sympathize with the sentiment on some occasions, but probably for different reasons. Whenever I’m driving around and see a cyclist who isn’t following traffic rules, or doesn’t know what they are doing, it both angers and concerns me. It is upsetting because these individuals are perpetuating a stereotype which desperately needs to be broken down, for my personal safety on the roads in doing what I love and for the safety of all those like me.

Every cyclist who clips into his or her pedals and heads out for a spin is putting their very lives into the hands of the motorists with whom they share the road. The harsh reality for cyclists is that the term “Share the Road” is most often a one-sided plea than what it should be: a mutual commitment. We all must take it upon ourselves to shift this paradigm.

As a lawyer, a cyclist, a motorist, but most importantly a husband and father, I want to outline some important guidepost reminders to keep us all safe in the coming months and beyond.

The Code of Virginia has outlined several rights and guidelines for cyclists in the Commonwealth. Here are some of the most important ones that cyclists and motorists alike should be aware of:

  1. Bicyclists have all the rights and responsibilities of a driver of a vehicle. (Va. Code § 46.2-800)
  2. Bicyclists must ride “as far to the right as safely practicable” while still using caution to avoid the door zone of parked cars. (Va. Code § 46.2-905)
  3. Bicyclists may ride two abreast on highways, but may not impede the flow of traffic and must move to single file when traffic approaches from the rear. (Va. Code § 46.2-905)
  4. Bicyclists must signal when turning left, right, or stopping; and may signal a right turn with the right arm. (Va. Code §§ 46.2-847; 46.2-848; 46.2-849)
  5. Motorists must pass bicyclists with at least 3 feet of space, and at a reasonable speed. (Va. Code § 46.2-839)
  6. Bicyclists may proceed through red lights if the traffic light completes two cycles or two minutes pass, whichever is shorter. (Va. Code § 46.2-833)

Similar laws apply in other states, but it’s a good idea to check the laws of the state you’ll be riding in before heading out for a road ride. Click here for information about the bicycle related laws in North Carolina, here for info about the bike laws in South Carolina, here for Georgia, here for Tennessee, here for Washington D.C., here for Maryland, here for Kentucky, and here for the Pennsylvania bike laws.

(Note: If you are a cyclist, you would be well served to print your cyclist’s rights card and carry it with you in your wallet or jersey pocket: http://www.riderichmond.net/home/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/RideRichmond-Spokecard-2013-04-01.pdf)

In addition to the aforementioned, some localities may require the use of helmets by ordinance. (Va. Code § 46.2-906.1) But wearing helmets is ALWAYS advisable.

Notably, it is also unlawful to operate a bicycle while using earphones on or in both ears. (Va. Code § 46.2-1078).

Perhaps most of all, it is important to remember that Virginia is a contributory negligence state. This means that if a cyclist suffers an accident at the hands of a careless motorist, any and all recovery may be barred if the cyclist is deemed to have been at fault in any way, shape, or form. (Thus, if you are cyclist, it is especially incumbent upon you to be aware of and follow the rules of the road.)

I strongly advise that every cyclist, or runner for that matter to wear a Road ID®:https://www.roadid.com/. These wristband identifications are relatively cheap, but have been known to save lives. Road ID® also offers an app that allows your loved ones to track your movements and location when you are out on the roads.

In closing, as the season continues to change and the warm weather beckons, please be sure to “Share the Road” and exercise due care. Happy riding to all!

This article was written by D. Paul Holdsworth, an attorney with Glenn Feldmann Darby & Goodlatte of Roanoke, Virginia.

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