Sharing the road: it’s a two-way street

It's 12:40 p.m. You're trying to run a few quick errands on your lunch hour. Dry cleaning ... check. Grocery store ... check. You should have no problem making it back to the office in time for your afternoon conference call. You might even have time to grab a coffee refill from the break room before dialing in.bike_blog

And then it happens.

You get stuck behind a cyclist – stretchy pants and all.

This encounter likely elicits a reaction - positive or negative - based on your personal experiences. Maybe you are an avid cyclist and you smile because you are encouraged by others enjoying your sport, wishing you could be on that bike. You might know a few guys from work who occasionally ride, or enter races to support local charities and you feel somewhat neutral. Or maybe you know someone who incessantly talks about cycling, wears cycling t-shirts and even tries to convert you to what you consider to be a 'cult' of cyclists, causing you to have immediate disdain. Hopefully you don't roll down your window and shout "Get off the Road!" while zooming by just a little bit too close - allowing rage to take over where sound judgment should. Whatever your personal bias, sharing the road is a serious matter that requires each party to exhibit responsibility, caution, and patience.

As a motorist, any frustration or irritation you feel towards cyclists likely stems from one of two things, the unfortunate acts of a few, or a lack of knowledge. Certainly, some cyclists make mistakes, like running red lights. Not only is that a bad practice, but it is illegal. It is a stretch, however, to apply the reckless behaviors of a few to the entire cyclist population. You'd think it ridiculous if, as a driver, you were judged by the actions of reckless or even drunk drivers. Each cyclist is an individual with his or her own level of skill and caution, so don't just assume the worst.

Unfortunately, a lack of knowledge can not only lead to frustrations for motorists, it can also lead to irresponsible behavior and even serious accidents. In the scenario above, the motorist yelled at the cyclist to get off the road. It is not uncommon for motorists to feel as if they own the road. The old adage that "possession is nine tenths of the law" doesn't apply here. Although it is clear most roadways are designed primarily, even solely, for motor vehicles, cyclists have the same right to use the roads as any car, truck or SUV.

With these rights, come responsibilities. North Carolina law defines bicycles as vehicles, with all the rights and responsibilities that are applicable. In other words, almost every law referring to a "vehicle" can be applied to a bicycle. For more information about laws related to cycling on roadways, review the North Carolina Department of Transportation's publication "A Guide to North Carolina Bicycle and Pedestrian Laws": http://www.ncdot.gov/bikeped/download/bikeped_laws_Guidebook-Full.pdf

Sharing the road can be tricky. Motorists and cyclists share the responsibility to make our roadways safe. The number of fatal accidents involving motor vehicles and bicycles is staggering, but we can do something about it. One element of our brand promise at Crumley Roberts is to "do what's right," and that principle should apply equally when you're on the road.

Tips for Motorists:
1. Be patient - the cost of being involved in a serious accident far outweighs any lost time.

2. Don't turn in front of cyclists - it is easy to misjudge their speed.

3. Don't drive while distracted - cell phones and other distractions increase the risk of accident.

4. Pass only when it is safe.

5. Remember you are driving a deadly weapon and that hitting a cyclists or pedestrian can cause serious injury or even death.

6. Remember that cyclists have every right to be on the road.

Tips for Cyclists:
1. Wear a helmet - even though the law requiring a helmet only applies to individuals under age 16, wearing a helmet can save your life and sets a good example.

2. Know your bike - don't venture onto a high traffic road until you are comfortable with your equipment.

3. Be aware of your surroundings.

4. Obey all applicable laws.

5. Avoid peak traffic times and roadways with heavy traffic.

6. Assume you are invisible.

Dré Fleury is the Personal Injury Practice Group Leader at Crumley Roberts. He and his wife Grace are avid cyclists, and she has been a member of multiple competitive teams, including the U.S. National team. Dré and Grace have three children and live in Charlotte, N.C. In addition to cycling, Dré enjoys soccer, spearfishing, free diving and working on home improvement projects.

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