Your parents probably taught you that it’s kind to share, and that wisdom doesn’t stop when you get behind the wheel. In fact, it grows even more important because driving means you assume a huge responsibility to operate your vehicle in such a way that others on the road aren’t harmed by your driving.
And that responsibility extends to cyclists just as much as other drivers . When a cyclist and a motor vehicle collide, it’s the cyclist that ends up with the most damage. As a driver, you’re surrounded by roughly 4,000 pounds of metal, air bags, and other safety features.
A cyclist, on the other hand, has none of that. They can be severely or even fatally injured in an accident involving a motor vehicle. They have just as much right to the road as you do, so it’s critical that you take care, keep emotions in check, and understand the laws and practical (not to mention courteous) actions you should take as a driver.
Here are the rules of the road when it comes to sharing with cyclists.
Know the laws.
Cyclists have the same legal rights to the road as drivers. They also have the same responsibilities. Here are some of the laws you must be aware of as a driver to help keep yourself and cyclists safe (see ARS 28-815):
- Cyclists may legally ride side by side on the roadway, provided they aren’t slowing traffic.
- Cyclists may come out of the bike lane to avoid hazards, such as fixed or moving objects, parked or moving vehicles, other bicyclists, pedestrians, animals, or surface hazards.
- Cyclists may use the full lane if the lane does not include a bike lane.
- You must yield to bikes when turning through gaps. For example, if you’re turning left through a line of cars, watch for and yield to cyclists.
Be on the lookout for cyclists.
Many accidents happen because drivers aren’t in the habit of watching for cyclists. Practice watching out for cyclists the same way you’d watch for other vehicles:
- When turning right or left, scan for cyclists in every direction, including with your mirrors. Be aware of blind spots.
- Watch for cyclists when pulling out of your driveway.
- Look before opening your door if you’re parked on the side of a street.
- Be aware of bike lane changes/merges (for example, bicyclists who must merge leftward as they approach a right turn-only lane).
Give them at least 3 feet.
Both Arizona law and ADOT requires that you give a cyclist at least three feet of clearance. If possible, give a cyclist more space.
Driving a truck, RV or bus? Give a cyclist a full lane width of clearance, and slow down. Mirrors, fenders, and cargo can stick out, endangering cyclists. If you have a trailer and overcorrect when passing a cyclist, your trailer can swing into the bike lane and cause a crash.
Don’t honk at a cyclist.
A sudden honk may startle a cyclist and cause them to swerve or crash.
Stay in your lane.
Think you can text or otherwise check your phone while driving? Reach safely into the back seat for something? Many times drivers veer into the bike lane “accidentally” while doing something other than paying attention to driving. Even crossing the line with one tire is too far for a cyclist.
Be extra watchful during non-daylight hours.
Half of all cyclists deaths related to motor vehicle accidents happen at night. Here in Arizona, many cyclists ride very early in the morning or in the evening or nighttime hours, especially in the summer. While cyclists do have a responsibility to wear reflective clothing and make other efforts to be seen, realize that it can still be hard to see them when driving a car, so be extra vigilant.
Give them the benefit of the doubt.
You may not understand the appeal of cycling, or the need for some people to commute on a bike rather than in a car. However, it’s a good idea to operate with the idea that a cyclist is doing his or her best to ride safely and predictably. They see things in the road—debris, potholes, or other hazards—that you may not see. Give them the space and courtesy they need so everyone can stay safe on the road.
For more information about bike laws and driver safety around cyclists, check out this helpful resource from ADOT.
Want to improve your driving habits, skills, and make sure you know the laws? Brush up with a course from Stop & Go Driving School.