Sharing the road with bicycles

Recently, as I was riding my bicycle along Route 30, I met another rider that was riding on the wrong side of the road, facing traffic. As we met, I mentioned that they were riding on the wrong side of the road. Expecting a response other than acceptance of my comment, I was surprised to see the person cross to the correct side, but the incident reminded me that it is time to review the laws applicable to bicycling. Every year there are new bicyclists, and they, and their parents, may not know all the vehicle and traffic laws that apply, and even seasoned bikers are often ignorant of the laws, or perhaps choose not to obey them.

By law, roads (except for interstate highways and expressways) are to be shared with bicycles, in-line skaters and pedestrians. Recent changes to Vehicle and Traffic Law should make for safer biking and walking along our highways, but motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians must know the applicable laws governing this shared usage. Bicyclists and in-line skaters must obey the same laws that apply to motor vehicles, including all traffic signals, signs and pavement markings, as well as stopping for pedestrians in crosswalks.

Bicycle riders (and skaters) must also:

-Ride (and skate) WITH traffic. Bicycling and skating against traffic are leading causes of crashes. Moving with traffic makes bicyclists and skaters more visible and their movements more predictable to motorists.

-Where bicycle lanes are not available, which is the norm in the North Country, cyclists and skaters may use the right edge or curb of the roadway. They may move farther left to avoid hazards or to turn left.

-Bike riders must signal for turns whether driving on a roadway or bike path.

-They may ride/skate two abreast on roadways, but they must ride or skate single file when being overtaken by other vehicles.

-Bicyclists and in-line skaters less than 14 years old MUST wear safety certified bicycle helmets. However, every bicyclist or in-line skater should wear an approved helmet, which significantly reduces the risk of a serious head injury.

-Children 1 to 4 years old must wear certified bicycle helmets AND ride in child safety seats.

-Children less than one year old are prohibited from being transported on a bicycle.

-Bicycles must be equipped with a brake that is capable of making the bike tires skid on dry level pavement, and must have a bell, horn or other device that can be heard at least 100 feet away.

-Bicycles driven at night must have a white front headlight, visible for at least 500 feet, and a red or amber taillight visible for at least 300 feet.

-Some municipalities prohibit in-line skating and/or riding bicycles on sidewalks.

Motorists also have laws that they should know and obey relative to sharing the road. Two V & T laws apply here. Section 1120 (a) (2) exempts vehicles from driving on the right side of the road when “overtaking or passing bicyclists, pedestrians, animals or obstructions on the right half of the roadway.” This means the driver may move into the oncoming lane, providing he/she yields the right-of-way to any vehicle traveling in the proper direction, in order to safely give plenty of space between your vehicle and the bicyclist or pedestrian when passing them. Section 1122-a requires that a driver, when overtaking a bicycle on the same side of the roadway, “pass to the left of such bicycle at a safe distance until safely clear thereof.” Although a “safe distance” is not defined, a good rule of thumb is at least three feet at village speeds and significantly more at highway speeds. If you were biking along a 55 mph roadway, would you like a car passing you at 55 mph only 3-4 feet to your left?

In summary, roads and highways are meant for shared use, not just for motorists. This can be done safely if, and only if, we all recognize that safety comes first, and consider the rights of ALL users. Know the laws; enjoy the healthy benefits of bicycling and in-line skating.

For more articles on vehicle and traffic law and traffic safety, go to the Traffic Safety Board website at and find Traffic Safety Board under “Departments.”