I have practiced personal injury law in Chapel Hill, North Carolina since 2001. In that time I have worked on hundreds of cases involving automobiles and other automobiles, automobiles and pedestrians, and automobiles and bicycles, automobiles and horses; you name a combination of conveyances, and I have probably seen a case that dealt with that.
Automobile v. bicycle cases can be particularly challenging. Given the physics involved the injuries are often horrific. What’s more is that often the accidents result from one or more of the parties involved simply not knowing their rights and responsibilities while driving/riding. Add that to the fact that insurance companies tend to use everything an injured person says against them to limit their recovery, and these cases can get ugly really quickly.
All of that being said, I thought the public, particularly the bike-riding public, but also anyone who drives a car, would benefit from a brief and simple explanation of North Carolina statutes regarding bicycle operation and safety on our roads. Ideally, this will help everyone avoid future accidents and keep all of us safer. Of course, the reality is that accidents will still happen, and that being the case I hope that injured victims can use the information found herein to protect themselves and their claims against insurance company depredations, and maybe, just maybe, make that entire experience a little less painful.
I hope that everyone finds this information helpful, and maybe interesting. Read on
1. Where to ride?
Where should you ride on the street? On the right side of the road, as far over to the right as possible. If there are two lanes, you have to be in the far right lane, and as close to the shoulder as is practical.
There are a few exceptions to this: If you are passing another vehicle, avoiding a dangerous obstruction, riding on a one way street, or preparing for a left turn, then you can deviate as necessary. The rule of thumb should be ride on the right side of the road in the direction of traffic (not against traffic).
2. What signs do you have to heed while riding a bicycle on the road?
All of ‘em! Bicyclist when riding on the roads have the same rights AND responsibilities (we tend to remember the former, but forget the latter) while operating their conveyances on the road.
That means you have to stop at Stop Signs. You also have to stop at Stop Lights. Here’s a big one – just because you stop, doesn’t mean you can then go before the light turns green! You have to stop and remained stop until the light turns green – just like a car – when you stop at a Stop Light. The exceptions to this duty to remain stopped are when a) you can safely turn on red, and b) you are stopped at a flashing red light (as opposed to a steady red light).
With Green Lights, you once again have the same duties as a car driver. You can proceed, but you should still not assume you can proceed without keeping a proper lookout and making sure it’s safe. This can be a HUGE issue with civil claims, so keep a proper lookout and proceed with caution.
In summary, if there is a sign that drivers have to obey, bicyclists should obey it, too.
3. How to make turns safely and legally.
When making a right hand turn, you should be as far to the right in the road as possible. When making a left hand turn, you should use the far left lane for that direction of travel, and use the designated left turn lane if there is one.
Bicyclists must signal their turns and stops using hand signals (you know what these are, and if you don’t, you can see how they are described in the statutes at Chapter 20-154(b)) or mechanical signals if they have them. This should be done at least 100 feet before the turn is made. Bicyclists must also give clearly audible signals to any pedestrian that might be affected by the desired action.
Essentially, if you want to ride on the roads, you must follow the same rules that drivers do. At an intersection not controlled by a light you should yield to the vehicle on the right. When making a left turn yield to vehicles coming in the opposite direction.
4. Where can you race bicycles legally?
Where is it legal to race? You shouldn’t! NC law prohibits bicycle races unless they are organized under the law. Here is a website you can look at if you are interested in setting up a race, but otherwise, don’t do it! http://www.ncdot.org/transit/bicycle/events/events_racing.html
5. Safety Gear Requirements
What kind of safety gear must you use when riding a bike on the road? All riders under 16 are required to wear an approved helmet secured with a strap (and all riders, regardless of age, are urged to do the same). See the statutes for what “approved” means. You are probably OK if you are satisfied with the certifications on the helmet packaging. Check the statute if you are in doubt!
Passengers under 40 inches in height or 40 pounds in weight must be secured in a separate seat where they are upright. Passengers under 16 must be seated on a saddle at minimum.
…and just because mommy said you could doesn’t mean you aren’t breaking the law if you’re underage and not abiding by the rules! Follow ‘em! You’ll be glad you did.
6. Can you be convicted of Reckless Driving while riding a bicycle?
Yes! And that’s a big deal. That’s a misdemeanor that will go on your record, and it could open the door to punitive damages in a civil claim if you plead guilty to that charge and as a result of that behavior cause injury to others.
7. Bicycles and Pedestrians
Once again, think like a driver. You must yield to pedestrians just as drivers must. Pedestrians should only be crossing at marked crosswalks, or at unmarked ones at intersections not controlled by lights. But essentially, if the pedestrian is in the road, you should attempt to yield.
8. What about passing vehicles?
If a car is stopped to allow a pedestrian to cross you may not pass that vehicle! So anytime you approach a stopped vehicle, you should stop and check it’s legal to pass.
If you want to pass a vehicle, you should do so on the left at least two feet away from the vehicle, unless there is too much traffic (or other danger) to do so. Bicyclists are subject to the same rules as motorists passing other vehicles, and should not pass at blocked rail road crossings or where there is signage/lines that indicate no passing allowed.
And if a vehicle is attempting to pass you it must be allowed. Motorists are supposed to give you an audible signal, but once you are aware of the passing attempt, you should make it as safe and easy for the motorist as possible.
In the event of a crash where motorists and/or bicyclists are aware that damage has been done to property or injuries sustained, law enforcement should be alerted and all parties to the accident should remain on the scene.
10. What’s the best attitude I can have while riding?
Always assume the other guy doesn’t know what he’s doing and doesn’t respect your right of way. It’s better to be humble and safe, than legally right and dead.