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Can a motorist drive in a designated bike lane?

May 30, 2016 by Steven M. Gursten

What drivers need to know about bicycle lanes and preventing car accidents involving cyclists


What do motorists need to know about bike lanes?

Happy Memorial Day, everybody. For a quick refresh on Memorial Day safe driving tips to prevent car accidents, take a look at our Friday blog post. Today I’d like to discuss bicycle safety, as it’s warming up outside and with the holiday, many of you will be on two wheels today.

First, the good news. More and more Michigan cities are becoming bicycle friendly — like Ann Arbor, Lansing, Ferndale and areas in Detroit. Several of our own attorneys are avid bikers, and it’s not uncommon to see one or two of our attorneys riding their own bikes to work, especially on Saturdays. Bicycling is a great sport; it’s great for our environment and for our own health and stress, and it’s why our attorneys so strongly support and make donations to the League of Michigan Bicyclists.

The bad news is that with more cyclists on the road, there are also more people on bikes being hit by cars. Part of the uptick in bike accidents is that many drivers have no idea of the traffic laws. That’s why I wrote today’s blog (on a beautiful Saturday after riding my own bike to work) about the law for driving a car and turning near bike lanes. There’s a bike lane right outside of our Farmington Hills law office headquarters, and I see many drivers who use the designated bike lane for weaving in and out of traffic and for making turns. Many bike accidents involving cars are caused by drivers who ironically never see a bicyclist who’s lawfully riding in the designated bike lane (the lane that’s also designed specifically to keep bicyclists more safe!).

Bicyclists are involved in less than 1% of all traffic crashes in Michigan, according to Michigan.gov.

But proportionally, they represent a greater number of fatalities than any other group of roadway users. When bike meets car, car wins. Sadly, the injuries I’ve seen as an accident attorney when a bicyclist is hit by a car are often catastrophic, and usually involve surgeries. Many also involve serious brain injuries – even with bicycle helmets. One important tip that bicyclists who are struck by passing cars might be unaware of is that they can recover medical bills and wage loss from the No Fault insurance of the vehicle that struck them in Michigan. In cases of very serious injury to bicyclists, this can also include attendant care benefits (nursing services) while they recover from injuries to assist them with bathing, dressing and other activities of daily living.

The inherent safety risk bicyclists carry is why it’s especially important for motorists to pass bicyclists at a safe distance and to always yield to a bicyclist before making turns.  And nowhere is this more true than when a bicyclist is riding in a designated bike lane.

Here’s our answer to one common question of whether a motorist can drive in a bike lane:

How should drivers and bicyclists operate when on a road with a bicycle lane?

Motorists should not drive on or across a bike lane, except to enter or leave adjacent property. This means that drivers are to make turns from the travel lane and not the bicycle lane. This also means drivers should not be using the bicycle lane as a turn lane to drive past stopped traffic to make a turn ahead.

The Uniform Traffic Code prohibits parking in a marked bicycle lane, except where permitted by official signs.

Bicyclists are reminded to follow the rules of the road and obey all traffic control devices, including signals and stop signs.

(Source: Michigan.gov)

How do motorists make right turns when there’s a bike lane present?

Turning with a bicycle lane, image

The natural follow-up question is, how do motorists make right turns safely when there are bike lanes?

First, keep an eye out for “sharrows” and green pavement markings.

Sharrows for bicyclists, image

Some bicycle lanes use shared lane markings, or “sharrows,” near designated right-turn lanes. These markings and dashed lines are used to help the bicyclist and motorist navigate the “transition” area between bike lane and turn lane. While drivers are always required to share the road, sharrows alert drivers that they’re likely to encounter cyclists. They also indicate the proper lane position for bicyclists to make them more visible to drivers.

In addition, green pavement markings are used to bring attention to the transition areas at designated right-turn lanes. These markings are designed to alert motorists and bicyclists that they’re at a potential conflict area. In these areas, all road users should exercise heightened awareness.

Green pavement markings for bicyclists, image

To make a right turn when there’s a bicycle lane, follow these simple steps, as outlined from the State of Michigan.

  1. When turning right, a motorist should always yield to bicyclists going straight. Never pass a bicyclist and then “hook” them by making a turn immediately in front of them.
  2. Once the bicyclist passes through the intersection, the motorist should then begin the right turn.
  3. Only after the bicyclist clears the intersection or driveway should the motorist complete the turn.

I’ve litigated several bicycle accident lawsuits involving bicyclists who were hit by cars. I often write about bicycle safety to help prevent these accidents, and as I said in my blog post last month about Bicycle Safety Month in May, it’s the responsibility of motorists to protect vulnerable cylcists and be apprised of the traffic laws.

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