Watch for cyclists

Share the road with bicycles

As a motorist, you may not know that bicycle riders have as many rights as you do. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), operators of trucks, cars, motorcycles, and bicycles are all regulated by most of the same laws and enjoy most of the same privileges.

Even if you’re well acquainted with this fact, it appears that many other drivers aren’t. According to a 2023 NHTSA study, car-on-bicycle crashes reached a multi-decade high in 2021 — 966 cyclists lost their lives that year, the most deaths to occur during a single year since 1975.

Injuries to bike riders jumped to 41,615 in 2021 — 7 percent over the previous year. It’s also notable that there have been back-to-back increases in national cycling fatalities for several years. It’s a deadly trend, and, with Americans buying almost 16 million new bicycles a year (according to a report in the Washington Post), evidence of a growing problem.

You can be part of the solution. Here are a few tips to help you share the road safely with cyclists when you’re behind the wheel.

  • Keep your eyes peeled. Bikes are permitted to travel wherever cars are. Traffic laws specify they should travel in the same direction as you on the road, and while responsible cyclists will observe these rules, not all do. Cars — particularly larger cars and SUVs — have blind spots not covered by their mirrors. Stay sharp and check over your shoulders as well as looking in your mirrors.
  • Learn to read the signals. Bike riders lack signal lights and have to flag their intentions with hand signals. See what signals bikers use and what they mean.
  • Watch out when opening doors. Experienced cyclists may know what it’s like to be “doored” — that is, hit with a car door when a car driver or passenger is leaving a vehicle. Be sure there are no approaching bikes when you’re exiting your vehicle.
  • Turn with care. When you’re making a turn, be especially vigilant. Clearly signal your intentions, and wherever possible yield to any cyclists who might be coming up from behind you. Bike riders have the right-of-way if they’re going straight.
  • Slow down. Your instinct is probably to get past bike riders as quickly as possible when you encounter them on the road. Resist that instinct, particularly on narrow roads and during inclement weather. Wait until you’re past the rider before you speed up.
  • Know where the bike lanes are. Bicycle traffic is increasingly common, particularly in congested urban areas. To ease traffic flow and keep bikes and cars at least nominally separated, many municipalities are adding bike lanes. Be aware of where these lanes are and give cyclists at least 3 feet of space when you pass them — more if it’s been raining. In some areas this is required by law.
  • Rain makes everything worse. As a pedestrian, you’ve probably gotten splashed by a passing car driving through a puddle; imagine how that feels mile after mile. Cars and trucks kick up spray that can soak riders and drastically cut visibility, adding danger to the misery. This also increases stopping distance. Again, give cyclists as wide a berth as you can.
  • Watch out for other dangers. It can be jarring if you hit a pothole in your car; for bike riders it can be catastrophic. Be aware that bikers need to dodge hazards that you cruise right over. This can inadvertently cause them to swerve into your path.
  • If nothing else convinces you… If you have a brush with a cyclist, you could face criminal charges, lose your driver’s license for a stretch, and potentially lose your private auto insurance permanently.

The information included here was obtained from sources believed to be reliable, however Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance Company and its employees make no guarantee of results and assume no liability in connection with any training, materials, suggestions, or information provided. It is the user’s responsibility to confirm compliance with any applicable local, state, or federal regulations. Information obtained from or via Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance Company should not be used as the basis for legal advice and should be confirmed with alternative sources.

Sources: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Insurance Journal, WikiHow, Bicycling Magazine, Washington Post