Look around you as you go about your daily business traveling on our local streets and roadways and you’ll see bicyclists everywhere. In Louisville, bicycle lanes have been added throughout the city to promote a healthier lifestyle and cleaner environment and Lexington has seen growth in promoting itself as a more bicycle-friendly community. People choose bicycles for transportation needs, for exercise and health benefits, and for economic and environmental concerns. Whatever the reason, and no matter where you live, there are more bicyclists than ever on our roadways, and motorists and cyclists need to learn to share the road and need to understand their rights and responsibilities.

Motorists and bicyclists often complain about one another when it comes to sharing the road. Did you know that bicycles are considered “vehicles” under the law, and as such, are legally entitled to use the roadways? That means bicyclists have the same rules, rights and responsibilities as any other vehicle operator, and motorists and bicyclists must both obey the rules of the road with corresponding rights and duties toward each other.

Bicyclists have the general duty to exercise reasonable care for their own safety and also must specifically:

  • Observe all traffic signs and signals including stop lights and stop signs
  • Have white light in front and a red reflector in back when riding at night
  • Always ride on the right side of the road, with traffic
  • Ride in a designated bike lane or keep as far to the right as practicable,
  • Use hand signals to indicate intent to stop or turn
  • Use appropriate safety equipment, especially a helmet
  • Yield to pedestrians in crosswalks and on sidewalks; give an audible warning to pedestrians before passing
  • Do not ride on sidewalks
  • Never ride on interstates or parkway systems

Motorists should treat bicycles the same as any another vehicle on the road:

  • When passing, allow at least 3 feet of space between your vehicle and the bicyclist
  • Be on the lookout for bicyclists before turning left or right, and slow down when approaching one until you pass safely
  • Check for bicyclists before opening your door after parking your vehicle
  • Yield the right of way to bicyclists where appropriate
  • Children are especially unpredictable bicyclists so be especially cautious where they are riding because they are harder to see and are inexperienced when riding bicycles with traffic
  • Don’t honk your horn when approaching a bicyclist. You may startle or alarm them and cause an accident

Helmets not required but recommended

Kentucky law does not require bicyclists to wear helmets but we highly recommend you do. A helmet may not prevent you from having an accident, but it can protect you and help lessen the effects of your injuries. Wearing a helmet can reduce the severity of injuries by 85%. Also, the fact that you were or were not wearing a helmet may come into play if you’ve been injured in a collision with another vehicle. Your failure to wear a helmet may be argued to have contributed to the cause and extent of your injuries.

Accidents at intersections are common

Many accidents involving bicycles occur at intersections. Bicyclists should pay extra attention at intersections to ensure motorists see them on the road. Always make eye contact with a motorist before entering an intersection and follow the basic intersection rules: first to arrive is first to leave intersection; with simultaneous arrival, the vehicle on the right leaves first.

No riding on sidewalks

It is against the law to ride a bicycle on a sidewalk unless you are 10 years old or younger.

Bicycling while intoxicated?

It is against the law to ride a bicycle while intoxicated, and that fact may be used against you as evidence of comparative fault about the cause of or extent of your injuries.

Bicycle fatalities have increased

CBS News reported on the recent study released by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) that showed an increase in bicycle deaths while automobile deaths remained steady during the same timeframe. The study found:

  • 16% increase in bicycle deaths in the United States between 2010 and 2012
  • Fatal crashes involving adults 20 years and older increased from 21% in 1975 to 84% in 2012
  • 69% of bicyclists killed were riding in urban areas
  • 6 states accounted for 54% of all bicycle fatalities: California, Florida, Illinois, New York, Michigan and Texas

With the increased bicycle traffic, it’s not surprising to see an increase in bicycle fatalities. The most important thing for motorists to remember is to treat bicycles as they would any other vehicle on the road. “Bicyclists fare best when they act, and are treated as drivers of vehicles,” said John Forester of Effective Cycling. Let’s all work together to make our cities safe for cars and bicycles to share the road.