Car Accident Law

Bicycle Buffer Zone Laws

Key Takeaways

  • Bike lanes and laws help keep cyclists safe by creating space between bikes and cars, like having wider lanes and buffer zones.
  • Drivers must follow specific rules when passing cyclists or turning near bike lanes to prevent accidents.
  • If a bike accident happens, a lawyer can help the injured cyclist get money for medical bills and other losses.

More bicyclists are sharing the roads with traffic. When bike riders are on the road with faster and heavier motor vehicles, it puts riders in harm’s way. Many states and cities have created buffered bike lanes and safe passing laws to help reduce bicycle accidents. Unfortunately, drivers don’t always follow traffic laws.

Traffic and accident laws vary by state for cyclists. If you’re hurt in a bike accident, talk to a local car accident attorney for legal advice about your potential personal injury claim.

Bike Traffic Laws

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, nearly one-third of serious bike injuries happen when vehicles attempt to pass cyclists. To make biking safer, improved bike lanes can reduce the number of crashes between bicyclists and drivers.

There are several approaches to improving bike safety, including:

  • Installing wider bike lanes
  • Painting lane markings to further separate cyclists from traffic lanes
  • Adding physical separation with curbs, striping, or posts
  • Implementing three-foot buffer zone laws between cyclists and the car door zone for parking spots
  • Adding separate bikeways

In most places, cyclists must follow the same traffic laws as car drivers. There are limited exceptions, including in Washington, where cyclists can treat stop signs like yield signs if no other traffic is approaching.

In some states, cyclists must have lights on their bikes when riding after dark. No states require helmets for adult cyclists, but some require them for minor riders. Some cities also have helmet laws for all riders, including adults.

Passing and Imaginary Bicycle Buffer Zones

Drivers typically don’t like to get stuck behind cyclists because of the difference in speeds. That can make passing dangerous in areas that lack dedicated bike lanes. Many states solve these challenges with rules that let cars pass slow-moving vehicles, including bikes. Most states have laws that explicitly govern how drivers should pass cyclists by requiring them to create an invisible buffer zone for added safety.

In 2014, California passed the Three Feet for Safety Act, which requires drivers to maintain at least three feet between themselves and the cyclists they want to pass. Virginia has a similar law that also allows cyclists to pass vehicles on either side. Maintaining an empty buffer zone can make overtaking maneuvers much safer for motorists and cyclists alike.

A number of laws also make it legal to pass bicyclists in no-passing zones. However, the right to do so depends on whether it is safe at the time. Going into the other lane to pass doesn’t mean that motorists can ignore the need to maintain a safe buffer distance.

Bike Lane Laws for Drivers

Bike lane laws also govern how drivers must conduct themselves. For instance, some dedicated bike lanes in Michigan and other states include white-striped buffer zones that provide additional separation between riders and vehicles.

In most cases, it’s illegal for drivers to travel or park in marked bicycle buffer zones and bike lanes. There may be exceptions when parking or making right turns. In states like California, drivers who want to turn right through a bike lane aren’t allowed to enter the lane more than 200 feet away from the point where they want to make the turn.

Some places allow cars to park in bicycle lanes but may also require that cars avoid blocking bikers in the process.

Bicycling Accidents and Liability

In the end, bike lane laws and buffer zones can only help prevent some bicycle accidents. If a driver violates buffer zone laws and causes an accident, that negligent driver may be liable. In some situations, the driver and bicyclist both contribute to accidents.

Pennsylvania specifies that drivers must wait to open car doors until they’re certain that no cyclists are coming. In these “dooring” accidents, drivers are likely to be responsible.

Alternatively, a rider who is cycling at night without the required reflectors, headlamps, or tail lights might be partially at fault for any injuries or damage that occurred because the driver couldn’t see them. As a driver or a cyclist, you should be familiar with your state laws to protect yourself and those around you.

How Can a Bike Accident Lawyer Help?

Cyclists almost always pay a heavier price for an accident with a vehicle. Losses after an accident can include medical bills, future medical expenses, lost income, property damage, and pain and suffering.

The driver responsible for the accident may try to make a settlement offer, but you should know your legal rights before accepting payment. A local auto accident attorney can evaluate your case and tell you about your legal options. Your lawyer can also negotiate a settlement to cover all your losses.

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