Monthly Archives: September 2012

Bicycles and Traffic Laws

Today I ran across an essay I wrote nearly three years ago, which exhorted cyclists to apply peer pressure to get each other to obey traffic laws.  Upon reading it, I had two realizations.  First, I realized that I still agree with every word.  Second, I realize that the problem has (if anything) gotten worse in the past three years.

Let me say it one more time, for the record:  Cyclists, every single traffic law that applies to cars also applies to you!

But I’m afraid I’m in the minority.  The other day I was walking across a cross walk and was nearly taken out by a kid on a bicycle who blew through the four-way intersection without stopping for the sign.  This is typical.  Later that day I posted on Facebook, “Am I the only cyclist who respects traffic laws?”.  One of my long time riding buddies responded succinctly:  “Yes.”

Obviously, peer pressure isn’t working.  It hurts my libertarian soul to say what I am about to say, but I think the only answer is increased enforcement.  Anyone on a bike who fails to stop at a stop sign or give proper turn signals, needs to be ticketed and pay a big fine.  They are a public safety hazard and they give us few law-abiding cycle commuters a bad name.  Anyone who can’t obey traffic laws doesn’t belong on a public road.

If you feel the way I do, feel free to write a letter to your local police department asking them to enforce traffic laws for cyclist the same way they do for cars.  If possible, send a paper letter.  E-mail is too easy to delete; paper usually stays on file for a while.

Traffic Laws: Cyclists Need to Educate Each Other

City traffic is full of annoyances for a bicycle commuter. Running the gauntlet of gridlocked intersections, double parked cars, angry drivers, and noxious exhaust fumes is enough to dampen anyone’s mood. One of the most irritating sights a cyclist can see, however, is another cyclist breaking the law. It is far too common to see cyclists riding on the sidewalk, cutting off cars, wearing headphones, or running stop lights. A law abiding cyclist sees this behavior and flinches, knowing that angry motorists will judge the entire cycling community by the actions of a few. Cyclists who disregard traffic laws damage community relations and provoke violence. To regain the respect of the community and protect themselves from road rage, cyclists need to educate each other to be more law abiding.

By law, bicyclists have “the same rights and responsibilities as automobile drivers.” (California Department of Motor Vehicles [CDMV], 2009, p. 47). A cyclist has the right to occupy the road, use turning lanes, and move within their lane to avoid hazards such as parked cars and debris (CDMV, 2009, p. 48). However, the cyclist also has the responsibilities of signaling turns and lane changes, riding in the same direction as traffic, and obeying all traffic lights and stop signs. In cities such as Los Angeles that allow cyclists to ride on sidewalks, bicycles are usually required to move at a walking speed and yield to pedestrians (Pool, 2008). Unfortunately, while most cyclists are quick to demand their rights under the law, they are slow to remember their responsibilities. Cyclists clamor for the public to take bicycles seriously, but the public has difficulty seeing bicycles as a serious adult form of transportation when the riders’ actions are so juvenile. Until cyclists begin obeying traffic laws and showing courtesy and common sense, their relations with the motoring community will continue to degrade.

Many motorists see bicycles as a nuisance. Packs of bicycles two and three abreast block whole lanes. Other bicycles fly on and off sidewalks in front of cars, causing near misses. Bicycles on the wrong side of the road cut off left turns. Too many cyclists ignore traffic laws, courtesy, and common sense. One man, quoted in a Los Angeles Times editorial, summarizes motorists’ view of cyclists: “Adults on bikes ride with an attitude and commonly perform endless illegal actions… I see them as accidents looking for a place to happen.“ (O’Dell, 2001).

A growing number of motorists feel that bicycles have no place on the street at all. Anger between motorists and cyclists can flare into road rage. Some incidents are almost surreal in their violence. In Denver in 2000 a man named James Hall drew a handgun and shot a cyclist to death for cutting him off at an intersection (Pankatz, 2000). Last year in Los Angeles, a man named Christopher Thomson became infuriated because the cyclists in front of him were not riding single file (Groves & Winton, 2008). He deliberately swerved the his car in from of them and slammed on the brakes. Cyclist Ron Peterson, hit the car at 30 miles per hour and flew through the rear window. His companion Chris Stoer attempted to avoid the car but caught a wheel and crashed, sustaining a separated shoulder. Both men, while seriously injured, survived the attack. Other assaults stop short of attempted murder yet still injure or humiliate cyclists. It is common for bicycle commuters to be abused with profanity, pelted with garbage, and forced into the gutter (Stein, 2007).

The best way for cyclists to avoid such violent scenes is to educate their irresponsible fellows. A cyclist is much more likely to listen to common sense advice when it comes from another cyclist. The good cyclists need to be proactive. They need to not only set an example, but to engage in an active dialog about safety, courtesy, and traffic law. In Los Angeles, one of the more dangerous bicycling cities, a non-profit group called Cyclists Inciting Change through Live Exchange (CICLE) is doing just that (Stein, 2007). CICLE uses group rides, free repair clinics, and other events as venues to educate new cyclists. Their official Internet site is full of tips on how to ride safely and avoid confrontations with drivers (Cyclists Inciting Change Through Live Exchange, n.d.). CICLE, and similar groups in other cities, provide hope for bicycle education.

By educating each other cyclists can protect themselves and their lifestyle. Cyclists who habitually break traffic laws infuriate motorists and create a backlash against the entire bicycling community. Law abiding cyclists need to educate the scofflaws by setting an example, joining cycling education groups, or even just offering friendly advice. Better cyclist behavior will make the streets safer for everyone.

California Department of Motor Vehicles. (2009). California Driver Handbook. Sacramento,
CA: Department of Motor Vehicles Customer Communications Section.
Cyclists Inciting Change through Live Exchange. (n.d.).  Riding Tips that Can Save Your Tail.  Retrieved September 22, 2009 from
Groves, Martha & Winton, Richard. (2008, July 9). Narrow road is a zone of conflict; Frustration boils over after two bicyclists are hurt in ‘road rage’ in Mandeville Canyon. Los Angeles Times, p. B1. Retrieved September 20, 2009, from Proquest database
O’Dell, John. (2001, July 25). Carmentary; Motorists, bicycle Riders collide over misbehavior on the roadway. Los Angeles Times (Home Edition), p. G1. Retrieved September 20, 2009, from Proquest database.
Pankratz, Howard. (2000, June 21). Shooter “consumed” by road rage. Denver Post, p. B2.   Retrieved September 18, 2009 from
Pool, Bob. (2008, July 8). Cyclists, walkers to share space; Backpedaling on a ban, pedestrian friendly West Hollywood prepares to legalize sidewalk bike riding. Los Angeles Times, p. B1. Retrieved September 20, 2009 from Proquest database.
Stein, Jeannine . (2007, August 13). On the mean streets of L.A.; Insults, hurled bottles — it’s ugly out there for cyclists and runners in an everyone-drives city. Los Angeles Times [Home Edition], p. F1. Retrieved September 20, 2009 from Proquest database.