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Plain Dealer: A refresher course on the rules of the road for drivers and cyclists alike

April 5, 2012

Don Barnett, Service Manager at the Century Cycles store in Medina, wrote a letter to the editors of several local publications, with an overview of some rules of the road for drivers and cyclists.

The Plain Dealer published the letter in its entirety on their web site,

Spring has arrived. Just as April showers bring May flowers, just as the swallows return to Capistrano and the buzzards to Hinckley, the cyclists will soon return to our local roadways. Some can be seen already.

For most of us with jobs, this means riding after work and evenings, just about the same time most people are rushing to get home. With a little care and understanding, we can share the roads safely.

While most drivers are cautious and courteous when dealing with cyclists, many seem unaware of the traffic laws as they pertain to cyclists. Foremost of these is that Ohio law considers bicycles to be vehicles. This means we have as much right to be on the road as any other vehicle. We are not supposed to be on the sidewalks (another law) and are not required to use the MUPs (multi-use paths) found mostly in the Metroparks. Some may not agree with the law, but it is the law.

Ohio law also states that cyclists should ride as far to the right as practicable. This does not mean as far right as possible. This distance will vary depending on road conditions, lane width, traffic conditions and roadside debris. This also does not mean cyclists should ride to the right of the fog line, and most cyclists will ride a foot or two to the left of the line.

When it comes to passing, it is up to the driver, not the cyclist, to do so safely. These guidelines may help:

  • Do not attempt to pass in the same lane as the cyclist. Road debris, potholes, animals or even a gust of wind could cause the cyclist to swerve unexpectedly.
  • While it is now permissible to pass in a marked no-passing lane, extreme care should be taken. Be sure you have a clear view of the road ahead and be sure there is no immediate oncoming traffic. Do not attempt to pass on the crest of a hill or on a blind curve. Any actions resulting in an accident or seen as unsafe driving will be the driver's responsibility.
  • Do not speed up to pass a cyclist only to brake suddenly to make a right turn. Bicycles are often traveling faster than you realize. The extra 10 or 15 seconds in following the cyclist to the intersection or entrance could be the difference between life and death for the cyclist.
  • The use of cellphones while driving, especially for texting, can be a dangerous and potentially fatal distraction. In fact, a number of recent studies have shown that texting while driving is more dangerous than drunken driving. A split second of inattention can have disastrous, devastating and possibly long-lasting results, not just for cyclists but for you and other drivers as well.

I realize safety on the roads is not solely the responsibility of the motorist but also of the cyclist as well. Having the right to be on the road also brings with it responsibilities. Cyclists should:

  • Ride in a consistent and predictable manner. Try not to swerve, weave or brake suddenly, and signal when changing lanes or turning.
  • When riding in a group, be courteous to traffic behind you. You are allowed to ride two abreast, but move over to a single line to allow cars to pass.
  • Wait your turn at stop lights, and don't run stop signs. Although this is the most common complaint from motorists, the majority of cyclists obey this law. Please don't judge an entire group by the actions of a few because, quite honestly, many drivers are guilty of this, too.

Although it is sometimes an inconvenience to wait to pass a cyclist, it would be much more so were you to injure someone, possibly even yourself or your loved ones, through careless, reckless or impatient driving.

With a little care and consideration, drivers and cyclists can safely share the roads and enjoy a happy summer season.

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