Bicycle Driving FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions

What is “bicycle driving?”

Bicycle driving is operating a bicycle according to the basic rules of the road for drivers of vehicles.  These rules include driving on the right half of the roadway, yielding before entering a more important roadway, yielding before moving laterally, using destination positioning when approaching intersections, using speed positioning when not in conflict with destination positioning, and using lights at night. In all 50 US states and most other westernized nations, bicyclists have the legal rights and duties of drivers of vehicles, allowing them to use roadways in the same manner as other drivers.

Why should bicyclists be considered drivers rather than pedestrians?

Experience has shown that bicyclists who follow the rules of the road for drivers have far fewer crashes and enjoy more convenient travel than bicyclists who violate those rules or who attempt to operate according to pedestrian rules or use pedestrian facilities.  This is because the tandem wheel arrangement of bicycles gives them maneuverability characteristics more similar to other vehicles than to pedestrians, especially when traveling at faster than walking speeds.  The rules of the road for drivers match the needs of bicycle drivers better than do the rules for pedestrians, which would require bicyclists to stop instantly, pivot in place, move on and off of curbs or into soft shoulders, and in some cases, travel against the flow of vehicle traffic where other drivers do not expect wrong-way vehicles approaching at speed.

Why should bicyclists be allowed to use roadways if they aren’t licensed/registered/insured/taxed?

Public roads belong to the public; roads have been intended for shared use ever since people started building them over 6000 years ago. Protecting the public’s freedom of movement on public roads has been considered important to basic human rights since the time of the Magna Carta. However, the invention of motor vehicles near the turn of the 20th century caused increased danger to the traveling public, resulting in significant regulations for the equipment and their operators. Motor vehicles also required more expensive roads to accommodate their weight and higher potential speeds, resulting in new taxation schemes to help cover the increased costs. Some communities attempted to administer licensing and registration schemes for bicyclists as had been done for motor vehicle operators, but this quickly fell out of favor since the dangers that bicyclists posed to other road users were far too small to warrant the high overhead costs of the government regulation programs. Today, most communities consider the public benefits of bicycling to be significant enough to warrant providing incentives for people to bicycle as an alternative to motoring. However, bicyclists are more likely to be injured when they operate contrary to the rules of the road for drivers. This web site is intended to encourage safer bicycle driving.

What is “destination positioning?”

When approaching an intersection, all drivers, including cyclists, should position themselves in the correct lateral position on the roadway for their destination: right-turning drivers should be at the far right edge of the roadway, left-turning drivers should be near the center-line of the roadway, and straight travelers should be between these positions. This reduces the potential for collisions between turning traffic and thru traffic when vehicles are traveling side-by-side. Many roads have separate lanes marked for different destinations; others have lanes that serve multiple destinations. A narrow bicyclist traveling in a multiple-destination lane must be prepared for the possibility that other traffic may attempt to pass within the same lane; therefore it is important for a bicyclist to use the correct part the lane for their destination.

What is “claiming the lane”/”taking the lane”/”controlling the lane?”

Marked travel lanes are sometimes wide enough for drivers of wide vehicles to pass bicyclists safely and legally within the same lane. Other times there is inadequate room, or other conditions such as high bicycling speeds, surface hazards, poor sight lines, or the possible opening of parked car doors make it unsafe for drivers of wide vehicles to pass within the same lane as a bicyclist. In these situations, it is often safer for the bicyclist to travel near the center of the lane, sending a clear indication to other drivers that they must wait and/or change lanes to pass. In North Carolina, it is legal for a bicyclist to ride in the center of a marked travel lane. Some other states have laws restricting when a bicyclist may ride in the center of the lane but allow it when the lane is narrow or when necessary for safety or compliance with other laws.

Does a bicyclist need to be athletic or experienced to operate as a driver?

Higher speed and faster acceleration increase the convenience of travel, but are not essential for safety. Consistency and reliability when judging the time needed accelerate across or into traffic stream are more important, and are developed with practice.  Bicycle drivers must have the skill to ride in a reasonably straight and predictable line, and look back over their shoulder without swerving. If head turning is difficult due to physical limitations, a rear-view mirror may be used. Finally, the basic cognitive skills required for driving any vehicle are required for bicycle driving. Young children usually do not have the cognitive development or impulse control necessary to negotiate significant traffic volumes as either a driver or a pedestrian. Bicyclists who do not feel comfortable or ready for operating as a driver on busy or high speed roads may prefer alternative routes. With experience, bicycle drivers usually find themselves selecting busier traffic routes with greater confidence.



One comment

  1. Rhonda Grant Jordan says:

    I would like to have information about adult bike riding classes. As an adult I would like to learn how to ride, I did not learn as a child. Are classes offered in North Carolina,particularly in eastern North Carolina?

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