Your Dec. 29 editorial “DOT rules show bike riders safety is a two-way street” offered little insight into bicyclists’ basis for concern over NCDOT’s proposed restrictions.
Bicyclists are the ones who lose in traffic collisions, and so bicyclist organizations have invested their resources into discovering the real causes of car-bike crashes and what bicyclists can do to avoid them. Most car-bike crashes occur at intersections where one party fails to detect or register the other. Empirical evidence shows that operating in a visible and predictable manner on the roadway, where other drivers are looking for vehicle traffic (and with front and rear lights at night), is by far the safest approach to bicycling.
It also turns out that lawfully operating bicyclists have crash patterns similar to lawful motorcyclists, who are most often hit by drivers turning left or pulling out in front of them. Motorcycle safety courses teach motorcyclists how to minimize the risk of collisions by choosing a position within their travel lane that maximizes how conspicuous they are and provides room to maneuver.
Every major adult bicycling education program in North America and Britain teaches these variable lane position techniques for reducing crash risk. This is why knowledgeable bicyclists insist that they retain their legal right to choose their lane position based on their own judgment and traffic context.
Motoring organizations such as NCDOT, however, tend to focus on the lower speeds of bicyclists and ways to facilitate motorists passing them without slowing down. Motoring organizations often recommend that bicyclists hug the right edge of marked travel lanes so cars can pass them within the same lane. Unfortunately, the travel lanes on most of North Carolina’s roads are too narrow for same-lane passing to be performed safely. As a result, the most common cause of crashes between bicyclists and same-direction motor traffic involves a driver who sees an edge-riding bicyclist well in advance but attempts to squeeze by. In contrast, bicyclists who ride in the center or left half of the lane substantially reduce their risk of overtaking crashes. Group bicycling in a side-by-side formation within a single lane appears to be especially safe; in fact, safety experts and bicycling clubs cannot find any record of a motorist in North Carolina hitting a group of two-abreast cyclists from behind.
The H232 Bicycle Safety Law Study Committee voted unanimously to recommend that no law restrict bicyclists’ lane position. The committee – which included police officers, county and municipal government representatives, bicycling safety experts and motorist representatives – felt that the state laws about the positions of other slowly moving vehicles are sufficient for bicyclists.
But in its draft H232 Study Report, NCDOT contravened the committee by recommending a law to prohibit bicyclists from using the left half of travel lanes, effectively outlawing defensive positioning. NCDOT has offered no scientific analysis or data to support its recommendation on safety grounds, leading to speculation that NCDOT is promoting same-lane passing and prioritizing motor vehicle speed over public safety.
Member, H232 Bicycle Safety Law Study Committee
Member, BikeWalk NC Board of Directors
The length limit was waived to permit a fuller response to the editorial.