Road bikers should know the law and follow it, too
It’s biking season again. You can tell in a number of ways: the snow is melting, the ski hill is enjoying its last hooplas, and spandex-clad figures in bright colors are adorning our byways. In the summers, I bike a gazillion miles. Increasingly, more of them on the roads than rutting along on my mountain bike.Ah, the freedom of the highway calls.What concerns me though is cars, trucks, tractor-trailers, motorhomes, motorcycles, SUVs, RVs and assorted sundry other large, inflexible things that fly daily down the byways of our and every other state. Not an unnatural concern, I suppose, if your 192 pounds is perched atop a 16 pound carbon alloy frame sharing road space with the sharp-edged behemoths. I note, relatively broad-shouldered as I am, I take up, side-to-side, precisely 22 inches of road space. A wee little bit of the right shoulder rightfully belongs to me. And all my compadres who toil along with or without me on our fair roadways.In the year 2000 (as government numbers crunches like to say, “the last year for which statistics are available”), 687 bicyclists were killed in crashes with motor vehicles. Ouch! A third of those occurred at intersections. Eight times more males than females met their fates when bike and car got too up close and personal. That testosterone thing again, how it decimates our ranks!The most common day for a bike-car fatality was, curiously, a Friday; too much early weekend cheer, I suppose. Ninety percent of bicyclists who died in getting cozy with a car were not wearing a helmet. This is, of course, unforgivable; for goodness sakes, wear your helmet. If you’re man or woman enough to grunt out century rides, you certainly can sport 10 ounces on your noggin.These grim statistics account, of course, not at all for various species of maimings, mutilations, and disfigurings short of death. The dour fact is this; when cars and bikes collide, rarely does the bicyclist emerge the victor. Every bicyclist should keep that simple fact tucked securely in the kit pack of his or her mind, even when he or she is in the right and the driver torturing your patience is a yahoo.We here, in our enlightened little valley, are not generally a dim-witted breed. I rarely see a cyclist without a helmet. That’s certainly step one for personal safety on the road. But we are a physical race here too (isn’t outdoor activity, after all, why most of us came here and remain here?). I would venture to say that, per capita at least, there are more bikes and bicyclists here than in any other corner of the universe. But there are cars, too, construction vehicles of all shapes and sizes bearing heavy loads, tractor-trailers plying our interstate at mind-numbing speed, frenzied tourists in unfamiliar rental cars with unfamiliar brains in their heads, and round-abouts that give conniptions to the uninitiated.What’s a cyclist to do?Well, first off, know the law. And secondly, obey it. Thirdly, use your noodle despite what the law does or does not say. If, for example, a 3 trillion ton tractor-trailer with a load of quarry rocks is bearing down upon you like a swatter keyed upon a hapless fly, its OK to cross the double-double yellow line if there’s no practical other out. Safety first, in other words, the niceties of the road and traffic regulations later.What laws of the road, though, pertain to bicyclists? In a word or two (well, three at most, I promise), all of them. And then some.Bicyclists must abide by all rules that a car must. This means quaint things like coming to a stop at stop lights and, yes, even at stop signs. I know from personal experience that this is inconvenient. So, too, though, are things like neurosurgery and reattaching limbs. This means yielding when one must yield, signaling turns, staying out of oncoming traffic and not passing on the right. I know, I know, this is heresy. If it makes you feel any better, I’ve likely bungled every last rule of the road myself at one time or another. But that’s beside the point. I’m endeavoring, soberly and earnestly, to become enlightened with you. And after all, I’m just the messenger.In addition to the rules which apply to cars, there are a few bonus rules made up just for us. These include all of the following: Bicyclists must have rear reflectors, must stay to the right of the road, must have headlamps or other similar lighting when riding at night, and must stay in dedicated bike lanes when one is near. This last point bears repeating. While it is a-okay in the state of Colorado to jockey the interstates, where a bike lane is nearby, the bike lane, rather than the interstate, must be employed. Bicyclists may ride side-by-side unless and until a motor vehicle approaches within 300 feet. Then it’s single file, baby, until the coast again is clear. Oh yeah, one other thing, carry an i.d., like a driver’s license. Bicyclists are just as subject to being ticketed for traffic infractions as drivers of the motored kind.Cars and bikes must look out for each other. It is the responsibility of all drivers, regardless of the means of locomotion, to be attentive to others on the road and to yield where common sense demands.To those few encased in rolling tons of steel who salute me and my fellow bikers with one-fingered gestures of warm greeting, thank you for the kind “hello.” But, in the immortal words of Rodney King, “Can’t we all just get along?” Share the road.Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the Bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley. He is a member of the Colorado State Bar Association Legal Ethics Committee and is a former adjunct professor of law. Robbins lectures for Continuing Legal Education for attorneys in the areas of real estate, business law and legal ethics. He may be reached at 926- 4461 or at his e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org
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