The duty of a motorist towards bicyclists is at all times to exercise ordinary case, to remain observant, and to respect the right of way of others. This is particularly important if the driver sees a bicyclist who is a child or who is obviously confused or incapacitated. The driver must not only take all reasonable and proper precautions to avoid a collision, but also must give an adequate warning by blowing his horn.
Unless otherwise indicated by signals or signs, a driver approaching an intersection must yield to a cyclist in a crosswalk. The driver must slow to a complete stop and remain stopped as long as the cyclist is within one lane of the half of the side of the road where the vehicle either stopped or is going to turn.
Signal not in Operation
There are times when, owing to damage or power outages, a traffic signal stops operating. If this happens at an intersection and the signals aren’t replaced by a temporary signal, policeman, or flagger, then the intersection is regarded as an uncontrolled four-way stop. When approaching an uncontrolled intersection, a driver must exercise due care to make sure that any cyclist in, or attempting to enter a crosswalk, is given the proper right of way.
Though cyclists usually have the right of way at a crosswalk, they must yield to emergency vehicles, such as fire engines and ambulances, when these vehicles are using their lights and sirens. Cyclists must remain in a place of safety until the emergency vehicles have passed.
If an intersection has signs or signals, then a cyclist must obey these instructions. This may seem obvious, but it is surprising how many people disregard signs and signals simply because they are riding a bicycle. Running a red light while riding a bicycle is as dangerous as doing so in a car.
The presence of driveways, parking lots, garages, and loading docks mean that vehicles often must drive over sidewalks to get to where they’re going. Oftentimes the driver is backing up and has difficulty seeing where he is going. This situation is one where the danger of colliding with a cyclist is very great, so the right of way of the cyclist is nearly absolute. The sidewalk is a place of safety, so drivers must yield.
Which is bicycle, a vehicle or a pedestrian? The answer is: it depends on the circumstances. When a bicycle is traveling on the road, it is a vehicle and is treated as one under the law. The rules of the road that apply to motor vehicles also apply to bicycles (though there are some exceptions) and cyclists are expected to obey those rules. Traffic lights and signs also apply to cyclists and must be obeyed as well.
The main exception is when a bicycle is traveling along a sidewalk or using a crosswalk, it is regarded as a pedestrian under the law. In that situation, the same laws and rights of way apply to the bicyclist as to a person on foot. For example, the driver of a vehicle must yield to a bicycle on a sidewalk or in a crosswalk.
With this in mind, the best way to understand the rights and obligations of the cyclist is not only to know the rules of the roads as they apply to vehicles, but also as they apply to pedestrians.
Because under the law a bicycle can be treated both as a vehicle and as a pedestrian, we often find it in a legal gray area, filled with exceptions. These exceptions are important because they not only help in determining negligence in bicycle accident cases, but are also intended to increase bicycle safety. One example is the recent introduction of “bike boxes” at some Seattle intersections to make bicycles more visible at intersections and allow them to go through the intersections before the motor vehicles.
Click here to order a free bicycle accident resource book written by Seattle bicycle accident attorney Chris Davis.