Your Non-Crash Course to Becoming a Bicycle-Friendly Driver

BikeUMD
Sustainable Transportation
Students
Faculty and Staff

 

The League of American Bicyclists has named The University of Maryland a gold status bicycle-friendly university for its wealth of cycling resources. But how friendly are motor vehicle drivers towards cyclists? Motorists play a significant role in shaping the friendliness of our roadways. 

Why It's More Important Than Ever To Know How To Share the Road

Micromobility—short distance transport on highly efficient, lightweight vehicles—is increasing. That means more bicycles and e-scooters are sharing the road with cars.

Consider also that the average car weighs about 2,920 pounds—and that's just for a compact car. The weight of midsize to large SUVs soars up to more than 5,000 pounds. Compare that to a 25-pound bicycle or an e-scooter. 

By learning to anticipate how bicyclists will interact with traffic, motorists develop share-the-road driving habits that prevent disastrous mishaps involving vulnerable vehicles.

5 Tips for Becoming a Bicycle-Friendly Driver 

1. Treat bicyclists as drivers of equal vehicles

The State of Maryland considers a bicycle to be a vehicle, required by law to follow the rules of the road just as other cars do. Bicyclists fare best when motorists treat them as drivers of equal vehicles that belong on our roadways. 

2. Understand what cyclists learn about riding on the road

It's a challenge for motorists to treat bicycles as equal vehicles if they aren't familiar with the laws and best practices that cyclists follow when riding on the road. Cyclists should know to:

  • Be visible and predictable
  • Ride on the right
  • Take the lane when it's legal or required. 
  • Stop at all stop signs and lights
  • Yield when changing lanes
  • Position themselves in the rightmost lane, facing the direction they’re headed when at intersections. 

3. Know when cyclists can take up the full lane 

As slower-moving vehicles, bicycles must stay to the right of the traveling lane. However, cyclists can use the full lane in certain circumstances:

  • The lane is too narrow for a car and a bicycle to share, separated by 3 feet
  • The bike travels at the speed limit (on-campus or residential streets, for example)
  • It's a one-way street
  • When avoiding hazards
  • When preparing for a left-hand turn
  • When passing 
  • When road signs state that bicyclists may use the full lane

4. Give the cyclist 3 feet of space when passing

Maryland law indicates that drivers must give cyclists 3 feet of room when passing. If it's impossible to pass the cyclist at the required distance, the motorist must wait until road conditions allow. Motorists are permitted to cross a double yellow centerline, as long as it's safe, to create 3 feet of space when going around the cyclist. 

5. When parallel parked, open your car door carefully

Prevent dooring incidents—striking a cyclist by suddenly opening your car door—by looking in the side mirror and opening the door slowly, or using the Dutch reach method. The Dutch reach is when the driver reaches for the door handle with the right hand. This action forces the driver to swivel their upper body so they can see if a bike is coming from behind before opening the door. 

If you're ready to level up your commitment to sharing the road, join BikeUMD for a free bicycle-friendly driver training. Created by the League of American Bicyclists, this hour-long course teaches you how to watch for bicyclists, confidently share the road and avoid the most common crashes. Contact bike@umd.edu to get a notification about our next training. 

 

About the Author

Tom Worth is the Bike Program Assistant, Dept. of Transportation Services, at the University of Maryland. He is also a bicycle instructor certified by the League of American Bicyclists and the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. He is an avid cyclist and can be seen bike-commuting to and from campus on his refit 1986 black and yellow Bianchi.