An Open Letter To Drivers
Over 40 million Americans, young and old, want to bicycle on public roads. Sadly, many are afraid to do so, in large part because drivers sometimes squeeze past them too closely. Even though most drivers don’t mean any harm, this frightening and illegal behavior has scared millions of bicyclists off the roads. Please remember that the laws in every state require that “Drivers shall pass at a safe distance & reasonable speed.” (Va. DMV)
Almost everyone has forgotten that when there isn’t safe space for passing, then bicyclists should use the whole vehicle lane, and motorists wait their turn. Please understand that, no matter how we feel about it, every person has a fundamental civil right to equal access, and safe passage, on public roads. This is, and has always been, the law: “Every person riding a bicycle shall have all of the rights and all of the duties applicable to other drivers.”
Please note that when bicyclists squeeze over to the right, they end up squeezed between hazards, sliding on sand or debris, or colliding with parked car doors. That is why, bikelane or not, in most states the ride-right rule for bicyclists has always been: “ride to the right *EXCEPT* when passing, turning left, or to avoid objects, parked cars, moving vehicles, pedestrians, animals, surface or other hazards; or when in a vehicle lane too narrow for a bicycle and another vehicle to pass safely, side by side, within the lane.”
Safe bicyclists will politely *merge* left and ride nearer the center of a vehicle lane, instead of squeezing next to hazards — just as any safe driver would do. Some may think this unsafe: but please note that there is only one general rule in the law for safe bicycling, and it instructs that safe bicyclists behave the same as safe drivers:
“Every person riding a bicycle shall have all of the rights and all of the duties applicable to other drivers.”
So please remember: whether in a bikelane, crosswalk, or not, squeezing past scares people. Please keep a safe distance when passing bicyclists and pedestrians, no matter where they are on the road. If you can’t pass safely, please wait. The law has always required that we share public roads equally, and safely, with everyone.
Bicyclists, in turn, must understand that *they* can do the most to make themselves safer, and more respected. Millions of bicyclists manage to ride in traffic every day, year after year, without collision or trouble. Many are Cooperative Cyclists, who have learned to use all the rules of the road to politely cooperate with other drivers: not only to signal, but to politely merge, yield, change lanes, use lights at night — all the rules. They are rarely squeezed past, and studies show that they are far safer than other cyclists — as safe as drivers overall.
Police and prosecutors don’t always protect the right of bicyclists and pedestrians to be safe. Sometimes this is because cyclists, overall, tend to act unlawfully. But our laws say we are not responsible for the bad behavior of other people. So please: enforce our common-sense traffic laws fairly, and equally. Please concentrate on individuals who do endanger others: most especially, those who use their vehicle to harass or threaten others, squeeze too close to bicyclists or pedestrians, or ride without lights at night.
Please remember that the roads were not built just for cars: before the car, public roads in the USA were already being paved for bicyclists. Every pedestrian and bicyclist, without exception, has a fundamental civil right to use, be safe, and be protected by the law, on public roads.
Please note that every State Drivers’ Manual recommends that safe practice for motorists is:
“Adjust your speed for blind hills, curves, pedestrians, bicyclists, and slow-moving vehicles.
These conditions make the posted speed limit unsafe. By law, you must drive slower.
It is your responsibility to adjust your driving to assure everyones safety.”
Please remember that this is, and has always been, the law. Thank you for your time and consideration.
Chief J.W. Rittenhouse (Ret.) Charlottesville VA Police
Ms. Lauren Cooper, Professional Bicycle Commuter
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