Bicycles on the road can lead to trepidation for the new and inexperienced driver.
As a new driver, you can absolutely expect that every day you take to the roadways will be different than the one before.
You will encounter new situations and will have to figure out how to react. One of these situations that is all-too-common is dealing with driving near bicycles.
When you encounter a cyclist who is sharing your road space, you won’t have time to pull up all the rules of driver safety and consult them about how to maneuver. You need to already know what the law allows and how to make sure both you and your fellow cyclist stay safe.
Everyone Needs to Obey the Same Basic “Rules of the Road”
The first thing you need to remember is that when any vehicle enters the open road, they then become subject to the laws of the road in that area.
For example, everyone on the road must stop when the light is red, stop at stop signs, use signals to let others know what they are doing, follow all posted signs and traffic laws, use appropriate lights in low visibility conditions – basically all the same things you have been learning about in your driver safety classes.
Sometimes there are bicycle lanes available along the shoulder or in the center on an esplanade. Where bicycle lanes exist, or in areas where cyclists are known to share the road with other vehicles, you may also see signs or street markings indicating you should expect to see bicycles. In any case, always keep an eye out for cyclists while you are driving.
But it is also important to know that just because these lanes are there doesn’t automatically mean that cyclists are required to use them.
Imagine You Are the Cyclist
One helpful strategy you can use when driving near bicycles is to put yourself in the cyclist’s shoes. In other words, imagine you have switched places.
What would you want and hope the vehicles around you would do to keep you out of danger and themselves as well?
You would want them to give you plenty of space – ideally at least three feet in front and behind you. You would want them to wait until it is safe to pass you and to only pass you on the left as the law states.
You would want them to use their lights and signals to let you know what they are about to do. You would definitely want them to keep you in their sights, checking their mirrors and blind spots frequently so they know exactly where you are cycling nearby.
And you would want them to be patient, even though this might be a bit hard since you are likely cycling slower than the posted speed limit and they want to speed up. It could mean your life if they get impatient around you, and you are relying on them to help you get to your destination safely.
By taking the time to imagine you are the one on the bicycle, with little physical protection between you, other drivers and the road, you can more easily deal with impatience and treat bicyclists the way you would want to be treated if you were in their shoes.
When Bicyclists Behave Badly on the Road
Even when you make your very best effort to follow the law, treat cyclists as you would want to be treated and drive safely for the benefit of all, sometimes cyclists won’t give you the same courtesy.
This can especially be the case when a cyclist is training for an event or if there is a group of cyclists riding together on the road. They may weave between cars, block the roadway, cycle slowly on a major roadway during high commute hours, ignore traffic lights and stop signs, fail to signal their intentions or even all of the above.
In these situations, you may find it tempting to give as good as you get and show your impatience with them as you drive.
Just remember in these situations that you do not want to see yourself on the evening news for hitting a cyclist. Bicyclists do not always ride safely and sometimes they rely far too much on the knowledge and goodwill of other drivers.
Here, the best strategy is to do your best to separate yourself from reckless cyclists, putting as much distance as you can between you and them and finding a safer space in which to drive.
Other Tips for Sharing the Road with Cyclists
Even after you have stopped your car and parked, it is still important to watch for bicyclists, especially when opening your doors.
By remaining aware and alert while driving near bicycles, you will safeguard two lives – theirs and yours.