Helping drivers protect bicyclists and coexist with them on the road
I’ve written previously about many of my own legal cases involving people on bicycles who are injured by drivers, and how I’ve learned from trying these cases and talking with juries, just how many drivers of cars are biased against bicyclists and cyclists.
Many drivers think bicyclists are putting themselves at risk by being on a bike on a public road. Other people think bicyclists shouldn’t have the same legal rights if they’re injured in an accident because they’ve somehow assumed a special level of risk.
This perception is dangerous and it has to change. The only way is through education.
Like it or not (and I happen to like it), bicyclists are here to stay. The projected growth of people riding bikes is expected to continue to grow in metro Detroit and its surrounding cities, just as it is throughout the rest of the country in the coming years. And bicyclists are entitled to the same traffic laws and expectation of safety as drivers of cars. So it’s up to drivers to stay patient, to see bicyclists who are there to be seen, and to help protect bicyclists.
With that, I wanted to share my list of 13 tips for safely driving around bicyclists in Michigan:
1. Do not text and drive: Statistics show that if you are communicating by text while driving a vehicle, you are 23 times more likely to crash. Texting while driving takes your eyes off the road and diverts them to your cell phone. And before you know it, you could run over and kill a bicyclist. Do not surf the Internet or use your cell phone at all when driving.
2. Understand bicyclist vulnerability: Cars and trucks can weigh thousands of pounds, while a bike can weigh around 20 pounds. As an auto accident attorney who has handled many bike car accidents, I can tell you that the injuries bicyclists sustain are often catastrophic or deadly.
3. Be sure before you pass: Passing slower vehicles is a regular practice. But it doesn’t apply to bicycles in the same manner. There are several situations where it’s important to pause and consider whether passing a bicyclist makes sense. For example, it’s not wise or safe to pass a bicyclist going downhill, around curves, or when he is riding his bike at the same speed as traffic. Make sure there is enough room to safely pass, and you can gauge the bicyclist’s direction. Do not cut off the bicyclist when turning right. When you pass, make sure it’s slow and careful.
4. Be extra cautious when turning right: Again, do not cut off the bicyclist when turning right. If you don’t signal your turn or if the bicyclist is a little bit behind you, you could end up hitting the bicyclist. Look for the bicyclist’s hand signal.
5. Acknowledge bicyclists with eye contact or a wave: This shows that you see the bicyclist and are paying attention to his direction and intention.
6. Keep an eye out for bike lanes: Just because there’s a bike lane, doesn’t mean the bicyclist is perfectly safe. Do not veer into the bike lane. And pay attention to the bike lane, as it could abruptly end or be interrupted, causing the bicyclist to have to ride into traffic.
7. Pay attention to the bicyclist’s hand signals: Here are the universal hand signals bicyclists use to alert drivers of their intended turns and stops. Drivers should be familiar with the signals so they understand the bicyclist’s intention.
8. Give bicyclists three feet if you can: At least three feet of clearance gives bicyclists room and prevents cars from swiping the bicyclists.
9. Follow the traffic laws: It’s important for drivers of cars to follow traffic laws as they normally would, even when a bicyclist is among traffic. For example, if a driver in effort to be courteous, skips his turn and waives a bicyclist through a four-way stop, that can be confusing as it throws off the regular flow of traffic. It could also cause a bicycle car accident.
10. Know the law for Michigan bicyclists: Here is a blog post we wrote about the Michigan bicycle law. In short: Each person riding a bicycle…upon a roadway has all of the rights and is subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle…” This means a bicyclist can ride on the road as drivers, and must follow the same traffic laws, like stopping at stop signs and red lights. According to Michigan law, bicyclists are allowed to ride on the roads.
11. Watch when you opening your door: Don’t “door” a bicyclist. This occurs when drivers of cars open their doors suddenly and knock an oncoming bicyclist down.
12. Don’t honk your horn: Honking your horn can startle the bicyclist and send him veering into traffic or a curb. It will not cause the bicyclist to go faster or get out of your way. It could cause a serious accident.
13. Change your attitude: If you start to feel annoyed and impatient with a bicyclist, keep in mind that there is a person on that bicycle. What if it were your grandparent, your brother or your close friend riding that bike? How would you want other drivers to treat that bicyclist if it were someone you cared about?
The golden rule, as in all aspects of life, applies here as well: treat every bicyclist as you would want your loved ones to be treated when you encounter someone on a bike and you are the one behind the wheel.