Auto Accidents and Bicycles: Avoid Riding Too Far to the Right
Drivers Who Ride Too Far to the Right Often Put Cyclists in Harm’s Way
“I was on my morning training ride outside of Phoenix. The roads in my area don’t have bike lanes, so I was riding in the right-hand lane with the flow of traffic. I was on the right side of the lane as always, riding just inside of the line.”
“I’m still not exactly sure what happened, but one second I was riding, and the next second I was lying on the side of the road. Someone who saw the accident said a driver tried to pass me at the same time another vehicle was passing in the opposite direction. I guess the driver didn’t leave enough room, and he clipped my handlebars going about 50 mph.”
“Fortunately, the driver stopped. Someone called 911, and the police came but I don’t know if the driver got a ticket. Was the driver in the wrong? Was I in the wrong? I don’t know what I should do.”
This is an extremely common scenario for auto accidents and bicycles. In fact, it is one of the most common scenarios in which cyclists get hit on the road. While the law governing this scenario is clear, it is equally clear that many drivers don’t know the law. As bicycle accident lawyers in Phoenix, we hear about cases like this all the time, and we have helped many riders and families in this exact scenario.
Arizona’s Laws on Bicycle Riders’ Right of Way and Passing Cyclists on the Road
So, what does the law say in this scenario? When cyclists are riding on the road, both cyclists and passing drivers have certain responsibilities. We’ll cover cyclists’ responsibilities first. This important information can keep you safe from auto accidents involving bicycles.
1. When Cyclists Are (and Aren’t) Required to Ride on the Right
To begin, Arizona law gives cyclists the right to ride on the road. Under Section 28-812 of the Arizona Revised Statutes, “[a] person riding a bicycle on a roadway or on a shoulder adjoining a roadway is granted all of the rights and is subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle . . . .” This means that cyclists can ride on the road (with a few limited exceptions); and, when they are riding on the road, they have the right to be treated just like all other road users.
But, Arizona law also clarifies that cyclists should ride on the right side of their lane as often as possible. Section 28-815 of the Arizona Revised Statutes states that, “[a] person riding a bicycle on a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway, except under any of the following situations.” It then goes on to list four circumstances in which bicycle riders can move to the center or left-hand side of their lane:
- “If overtaking and passing another bicycle or vehicle proceeding in the same direction.”
- “If preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway.”
- “If reasonably necessary to avoid conditions, including fixed or moving objects, parked or moving vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, animals or surface hazards.”
- “If the lane in which the person is operating the bicycle is too narrow for a bicycle and a vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane.”
Even if most cyclists aren’t familiar with the specifics of Arizona’s bicycle laws, they know to ride on the right-hand side of the road when possible. As a result, most cyclists comply with the law most of the time—even if they aren’t actively thinking about the law’s requirements.
2. Drivers’ Responsibility to Pass Bicycle Riders Safely
Cyclists generally can’t keep up with the speed of the vehicles around them. The law recognizes this; and, while it is a cyclist’s choice to ride on roads where they can’t travel at the speed limit, the law puts the onus on drivers to help keep cyclists safe in Arizona.
In fact, the law specifically addresses the issue of drivers riding too far to the right when passing cyclists. Section 28-735 of the Arizona Revised Statutes states:
“When overtaking and passing a bicycle proceeding in the same direction, a person driving a motor vehicle shall exercise due care by leaving a safe distance between the motor vehicle and the bicycle of not less than three feet until the motor vehicle is safely past the overtaken bicycle.”
If we break this statute down into its “elements” (which is something that us lawyers like to do), there are three key aspects to drivers’ duty to pass safely:
- Due Care – Drivers have an obligation to “exercise due care” when passing cyclists. This means that they need to take the cyclist’s safety into account, and they need to avoid negligently creating a risk for injury or death.
- A Safe Distance of Not Less Than Three Feet – While drivers can legally pass cyclists in their lane, they can only do so if they can leave at least a three-foot buffer. Passing with anything less than a three-foot buffer means the driver is too far—and dangerously close—to the right.
- Safely Past – Drivers must maintain a safe distance until they are “safely past the overtaken bicycle.” This means that drivers cannot cut off cyclists after passing them. Likewise, if a driver would need to slam on the brakes after passing in order to avoid a rear-end collision or to stop at an intersection, this does not qualify as being safely past.
When drivers violate laws like this that are designed to protect the public, they aren’t just negligent, but they are guilty of negligence per se. Basically, this means that victims (and victims’ families) will have an easier time proving that they are entitled to financial compensation. When drivers pass too close to cyclists, the consequences are often devastating, and they can—and should—be held accountable under Arizona law. These auto accidents involving bicycles can be prevented.
When Drivers Try to Pass Cyclists Without Enough Room
“I was riding my bike on a busy two-lane road. While I was keeping a good pace, the speed limit was 45 mph. There was a line of cars going the other way, and I knew there were cars behind me, but there was no way for me to safely let them pass. I guess the driver directly behind me got frustrated, because he tried to pass anyway. But, there wasn’t nearly enough room, and he hit me while accelerating aggressively.”
“Do I have a claim against the driver?”
Clearly, the driver behaved recklessly in this scenario. While the driver may have been frustrated about going below the speed limit, this did not justify the driver’s actions—not even close. The law is clear on drivers’ duty to maintain at least a three-foot buffer while passing, and there are no exceptions.
What would the driver’s excuse be—“I knew I wasn’t leaving the cyclist much room, but I was trying to get somewhere as fast as I could”? The driver’s reckless actions clearly were not justified; and, as a result, the driver deserves to be held accountable.
So, what should drivers do when they don’t have enough room to pass a cyclist safely? The answer is simple: They need to wait. As we discussed above, cyclists have every right to share the road.
But, even if they didn’t, there is no excuse for putting someone else’s safety, and potentially their life, in jeopardy. Drivers need to avoid riding too far to the right when passing cyclists—even if this means that their drive will take a little bit longer than they planned.
Cycling Safety: Protecting Yourself from Drivers Who Ride Too Far to the Right
“I occasionally see bicyclists riding with flags, and some even have flags that hang out to the left to encourage drivers to pass safely. I don’t have one of these flags, but should I? Is there anything else cyclists should do to protect themselves on the road—and to help make sure they aren’t blamed for their own injuries if they get hit by a passing driver?”
Arizona law doesn’t require the use of flags on bicycles at any time, this can cause more auto accidents and bicycles. In fact, the law doesn’t establish many requirements for bicycles at all. Under section 28-817 of the Arizona Revised Statutes, bikes need to have working brakes, and cyclists who ride at night need to have a front headlight and a rear reflector. That’s it.
But, while cyclists may not be legally required to have much safety equipment on their bikes, that doesn’t mean that going without safety equipment is a good idea. You don’t necessarily need to put a flag on the back of your bike (and for serious cyclists, we know that a flag can make your bike less aerodynamic), but it is a good idea to help make sure you and your bike are as visible as possible.
With this in mind, here are some safety tips for riding on the road and reducing your risk of being hit by a driver who is riding too far to the right:
- Wear Reflective Clothing – Whether you wear a reflective riding jersey or a reflective vest, wearing something that makes you stand out on the side of the road will help drivers see you before it’s too late. While having a flashing taillight on your bike can help too, reflective clothing gives you a wider presence.
- Ride Predictably – When riding around motor vehicles, it is important to ride predictably. This usually means riding in a straight line. If you are weaving in your lane or constantly riding into the shoulder, drivers will have a more difficult time anticipating your next move.
- Hand Signal When Stopping or Turning – Cyclists should use hand signals whenever they can. If you are getting ready to stop or turn, start signaling with plenty of time for drivers to see and react accordingly. Avoid darting across your lane or stopping suddenly whenever possible.
- Avoid High-Traffic Areas (if Possible) – If you commute on your bike or you need to get in an evening training ride, you might not be able to avoid riding with traffic. But, it is a good idea to avoid high-traffic areas when possible. Even though you aren’t obligated to do so under the law, recognizing the reality that many drivers make bad decisions, it is best to make decisions with your own personal safety in mind.
- Avoid Riding in the Dark (if Possible) – Similarly, drivers are less likely to see you on the road when it is dark outside. While riding at nighttime can be dangerous, so can driving at dawn or dusk—especially if you are riding into the sunrise or sunset. Glare can reduce drivers’ visibility significantly, and this can increase their chances of overlooking a bicycle rider in the right side of their lane.
Unfortunately, no matter how many precautions you take, you simply cannot protect yourself entirely. Some drivers won’t be paying attention, and some will make bad decisions—like the driver who sped up and tried to pass without enough room in our example above. So, while cyclists should do what they can to protect themselves, under no circumstances should they accept that they are to blame for their own injuries.
In the vast majority of cases, they simply aren’t responsible for these auto accidents involving bicycles.
This means that most cyclists who get hit by drivers who are riding too far to the right can seek just compensation. The financial and non-financial costs of traumatic injuries from a bicycle accident can be substantial, and all riders should recover the financial compensation they deserve. If you have questions about filing a bicycle accident claim in Arizona, we encourage you to contact us promptly for more information.
Schedule a Free Consultation at Phoenix Accident and Injury Law Firm – Auto accidents and bicycles
Do you need to know more about filing a claim against a driver who was riding too far to the right? If so, we invite you to get in touch. To schedule a free consultation at Phoenix Accident and Injury Law Firm, call 480-634-7480 or tell us about your accident online now.