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Who has the right of way? Utah laws regarding bicycles

Who has the right of way? Utah laws regarding bicycles

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SALT LAKE CITY — This year, Salt Lake City’s bicycle share program expanded to 330 bicycles and 33 stations.

Add that to the cyclists already roaming around in Utah and that means more bikes will be on the roads, especially as temperatures warm up.

According to the Utah Department of Highway Safety, there were 763 accidents involving bicyclists (2.59 per 10,000 population), 685 involving injuries and nine fatalities in 2014, which is the most recent data of all bicycle accidents. The total number is a sharp decline from the 903 in 2012, but fatalities jumped from three to nine in those years.

The overall average of bicycle accidents involving no injuries, injuries and fatalities from 2005 to 2014 is 763.6, according to the same data report, though data fluctuated from year-to-year. However, the total number of accidents from 2005 to 2014 tends to rise beginning in May.

With that in mind, here are some tips and laws for bicyclists and motorists to help avoid accidents as bicyclists hit the road this summer.

Bicycles are vehicles

First of all, all bicycles are considered vehicles in Utah; thus, all bicyclists have the same rights and provisions as motorists and any other vehicle operators (minus highways, of course), according to state law.

That means motorists must share the road with cyclists, and bikers must obey the same traffic laws and signals as motorists, including stop signs, yield signs and traffic lights.

“I think there’s a little confusion about what exactly the rights and responsibilities are of cyclists on the road and for many people, bicycles are seen as more of a recreation vehicle or even a child’s toy and (people) don’t understand that by Utah law (bicyclists) are recognized as a roadway vehicle and they do have a right to be on the road,” said Jack Lasley, the program manager of bicycle, pedestrian and motorcycles for the Utah Department of Public Safety.

Bicyclists should also ride in the same direction in traffic; if there is no bicycle lane, bicyclists are required to ride as far right as practicable unless turning left, going straight through an intersection past a right-turn-only lane, passing another bicyclist or vehicle or traveling in a lane too narrow to safely ride side-by-side with another vehicle.

In some instances, bicyclists might use a path instead of the roadway and should do so if directed. However, bicyclists do have the right to use a full lane in a roadway, if necessary.

“I would say not everyone is aware that a bicyclist does have a right to take a full lane if they need to do so for their own safety — if there’s not an adequate shoulder or if there’s obstructions that keep them from riding safely on the shoulder or in the bike lane,” Lasley said. “Motorists should respect that and pass them safely in the other lane and bicyclists should know that they do have that right and they don’t have to ride in debris or in unsafe conditions.”

Regarding bicycles and pedestrians, bicyclists are required to yield to pedestrians. Utah law also states, "a person may not operate a bicycle or a vehicle or device propelled by human power on a sidewalk, path or trail or across a roadway in a crosswalk, where prohibited by a traffic-control device or ordinance."

Signals and passing

Bicyclists shouldn’t ride more than two-wide. Bikers should signal at least three seconds in advance any intention to turn either left or right, change lanes or come to a stop, though it is not necessary to maintain that signal if it hinders control of the bike and when in a turning lane.

Who has the right of way? Utah laws regarding bicycles

Bicyclists may pass other vehicles on the right, but only by driving off the roadway.

Motorists must give bicyclists at least 3 feet of space when passing the biker, which Lasley said is a recent adjustment to the old law that once allowed motorists to pass within 3 feet if the motorist could do so in a safe manner.

“It’s really important that motorists obey this law because it provides the bare minimum distance in safely passing a more vulnerable road user,” Lasley said. “It’s definitely one that motorists are less aware of than other roadway laws, and it’s relatively new.”

Safety features

Visibility on the roadway is one of the most important points of bicycle safety.

“Being seen is critically important to their safety,” Lasley said.

Bicyclists are required by law to have a front headlight in low-light conditions and a red reflector or red lamp on the rear, as well as either the rider or bicycle having reflective gear. Wearing bright colors is also beneficial for rider visibility.

Though not required in the state, helmets are advised for added safety. For example, a Cochrane Institute study concluded “helmets provide a 63 to 88 percent reduction in the risk of head, brain and severe brain injury for all ages of bicyclists.”

As always, make sure to check all Utah laws regarding bicycles before hitting the road.

Carter Williams

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