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Sharing the Road: Clarification of existing traffic laws for motorists and bicyclists

Bicyclists are appearing in greater numbers on our roadways. People bicycle for a variety of reasons, including commuting, running errands, exercise, and recreation. As more people take to the streets on bicycles, however, confusion and conflicts and misunderstandings can occur because many citizens people do not understand realize that the same traffic laws apply to bicyclists and motorists.

Bicycles are vehicles, according to state law, and bicyclists have all the rights and duties of any other driver of a vehicle on Tennessee roads. Those duties include obeying stop signs and traffic lights, using lights at night, and yielding to other traffic when entering the


The law also gives cyclists rights. These rights include equal status with other drivers, the right to use the road responsibly, and legal protection in court. A motorist is required by law to yield right- of- way to a bicyclist just as he or she would to another motorist. Motorists should look for bicyclists to be on all roadways, and give the same respect they would to another motorist.

Road Position: Cyclists are required to ride as close as practicable to the right -hand curb or edge of the roadway. “Practicable” means that there are exceptions. If the bicyclist intends to make a left turn, he/ or she can move left and do so just like a car. When going the speed of other traffic or when a lane is too narrow to safely share with a car, the bicyclist can move to the middle of the lane. If the surface near the right edge is hazardous (e.g. covered withif there’s gravel or broken glass, for example), the bicyclist can ride far enough to the left to avoid the hazard.

Riding side- by -side: In most situations, it is illegal for bicyclists to ride more than two abreast. If cyclists are riding two abreast, they cannot should not impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic.

Lights at night: It is required by law that bicyclists have a headlight when riding at night. A rear light is a very good idea too, although the law only requires a red reflector.

A majority of fatalities in bicycle/motor vehicle crashes results from head injuries, so it is important that bicyclists wear helmets. Helmets are required by Tennessee law for bicyclists under the age of 16.

Some bicyclists choose to ride on sidewalks or paths alongside roadways instead of on the road. This is legal, but it is not as safe as people think. The potential for conflicts at intersections with roads and driveways, along with the dilemma about how to reach a destination on the other side of the street, or what to do when the path or sidewalk ends, result in a higher crash rate for bicyclists on sidewalks than on roadways. Thus, bicycling on sidewalks is only recommended for young children, and bicyclists need to watch carefully at intersections for turning vehicles.

People who choose to bicycle instead of driving help reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality, making our community a better place to live. If we all obey the law and show a little courtesy to other people, it is easy to share the road.


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