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FHWA bicycle safety education resource center

The Motorist

Few motorists go out of their way to deliberately hit or frighten bicyclists. However, an equally small number really appreciate the impact they can have on the safety and comfort of those around them who are outside the protection of a steel cage. Motorists are on the lookout for threats to their safety and so are scanning for other vehicles - they may not be paying attention to the cyclist or pedestrian ahead of them in the road. They may not realize that speeding through a neighborhood prevents people from crossing the street or feeling comfortable riding up to the shops. When overtaking a bicyclist, motorists are worried about how close vehicles in the adjacent or oncoming lanes are rather than how close they are coming to the bicyclist - and they are certainly in too much of a hurry to stop and wait for a gap in traffic before pulling out and safely passing a rider.

EVERY police patrol officer should watch for these violations while on routine patrol and take enforcement action when they observe them.

Problems with enforcement against the driver:

Unfortunatley, the law enforcement officer is most likely having to make up for the failure of traffic engineers to properly accommodate bicyclists in roadway design, or for our failure to train motorists to deal safely with bicyclists, or for a lack of bicyclist education. If a bicyclist is "holding up" a motorist by riding in the middle of the travel lane, the chances are the bicyclist would be more than happy to be riding in a designated bike lane or on a paved shoulder, but none exists. Many motorists are uncomfortable passing a cyclist because they were never really taught how to deal with that situation when learning to drive.

Bicyclists are often held in quite low esteem by other road users - the image of the errant cyclist running stop signs and red lights pops easily into almost everyone's head. Thus, stopping a motorist to cite them for a traffic violation involving a cyclist is, on the face of it, going to win the officer very few new friends. Indeed, many motorists will be completely unaware of what they have done wrong even after being pulled over. The first task for the officer, therefore, is to make sure the motorist does understand and appreciate the impact of behavior that causes danger to a bicyclist. If the driver seems to get the message, a warning may be all that is necessary.

Some drivers, however, won't get it. They will steadfastly refuse to accept that a cyclist - any cyclist - should be on the road, particularly that road, in front of them. They may even claim to be acting in the cyclists' best interest in telling them to "get off the road" for their own safety. Even if the officer wouldn't ride on that road themselves, they should help the driver understand that the cyclist has a legitimate right to be on the road and that riding in the gutter or on the sidewalk (assuming one exists) is likely much less safe. If the driver still fails to see the light, a ticket may be the only option.

Officers should beware the defense that "the cyclist was all over the road". Certainly some cyclists do weave around and are unpredictable. More often than not, the cyclist is simply trying to avoid a pothole, dodge a rock or broken glass, or stay away from a crack in the road between the gutter and the asphalt. Cyclists are not required or expected to ride in the gutter, and are not required to get out of the way of motorists. Equally, a cyclist should not deliberately hold up a motorist when there is space for safe passing.

Areas of focus for enforcement at the motorist:

:: Driving while impaired by drugs or alcohol
:: Failing to yield the right-of-way
    - When turning left at intersections or at driveways
    - When turning right at intersections or at driveways
    - When entering roadway
:: Speeding, particularly in neighborhoods and near schools.
:: Overtaking bicycles in areas where it cannot be done safely.