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Sharing the Road with Cyclists

Drivers need to be especially cautious around cyclists. Here's how best to share the road. 

Bicycle and car too close on the street, image
Photo caption
It's the law in 27 states for cars to give bikes three feet of space when passing.


Bicycles may be smaller and slower than cars, but the law entitles them to share the road. Coexistence requires added care from motorists, says AAA safety expert Rhonda Shah. “There are more than half a million collisions between cars and bikes in the United States every year, and many are the result of motorists’ failure to properly yield,” Shah says. Here are her suggestions for driving safely when cyclists are around.

Share the road It helps to think of bikes as slow-moving cars: They have many of the same rights to the road as other vehicles, including the right to occupy the whole lane when there isn’t enough room for a car and a bike to fit safely side by side.

Give them three feet Nearly two-thirds of bicycle fatalities in the United States happen in places other than intersections. That’s a big reason why 27 states—including Oregon—require motorists to put at least 36 inches between their vehicles and bicyclists when passing. If you’re driving fast or the weather is bad, leave even more space.

Watch your blind spots Bicyclists can easily be overlooked. Double-check your mirrors when changing lanes and making turns, and before opening your door after parking.

Lay off the horn Remember how loud it seemed the last time another driver honked at you? Imagine getting that blast right in your ear. Honking can startle bicyclists and make them swerve off the road or into traffic.

Focus on kids Children on bikes can be unpredictable because their motor skills and decision-making faculties aren’t fully developed. Take special care in places you’re most likely to encounter them—near schools and in residential areas—and be cautious when backing out of driveways.

Dial up the patience Cyclists can only move so quickly. If you have to pass one, wait until it’s safe, and don’t tailgate. “We all have places to go,” Shah says. “Regardless of our mode of transportation, if we slow down and respect one another we can all get there safely.”

Photography by Volodymyr Baleha/Shutterstock


This article was first published in Winter 2016. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.