As the weather improves, our roadways will begin to see more bicycles, with riders of all ages and skills. It is important that both cyclists and motorists understand the laws regarding bicycling on our roads and commit to safe practices and mutual respect.

Cyclists may ride for recreation, competitive sport, health, fitness, environmental consciousness, or economic necessity. A person on a bicycle was once shown, by research published in Scientific American, to be the most efficient means of travel in terms of energy consumption per mile. Our world could certainly benefit from more bicycles and fewer fossil fuel-powered vehicles.

In a recent guest column (April 21), Wendy Leighton pointed out important concerns regarding bicycles on our shared roadways. She visited the Bicycle Coalition of Maine’s website to get correct information regarding state laws regarding the rights and responsibilities of both cyclists and motorists. It would be wonderful if all motorists and cyclists were familiar with those laws.

The most important bicycling law that motorists should know is that cyclists have a legal right to use the road, and that passing a cyclist should be done only when it is safe to give the cyclist at least 3 feet of space from the vehicle.

That often means that on a two-lane rural road, a cyclist cannot be safely passed when an approaching vehicle is in the oncoming lane. There is just not enough space for two vehicles and a cyclist.

Leighton stated that multiple vehicular occupants are put in jeopardy by cyclists and that, therefore, cycling laws ought to change. Several alternatives were suggested, including riding “only on roadways that have a paved, 3-foot or wider breakdown lane that can be used as a bicycle lane.”


She also mentioned that cyclists who ride on roadways that are without a breakdown lane should “travel at their own risk.”

As a cyclist using roadways in multiple states for more than 40 years, I can attest that bicyclists already ride “at their own risk,” and would greatly prefer a road system that offered paved, 3-foot lanes that were safe for cycling.

However, in Maine those are rare and often filled with hazards, such as broken pavement and debris. Cyclists are often forced into the traffic lanes due to these hazards. It is important that drivers understand that this practice is legal.

Of course, it is little comfort to know that the law is on your side if you have been injured or killed by a driver who feels you have no business on the road, wasn’t paying attention to your presence, or who didn’t slow down for a few seconds to wait for a safe opportunity to pass.

Cycling is widespread and growing in popularity. While some drivers may feel that bicyclists have no business on the road, it is unlikely that the hundreds of thousands of cyclists in this nation will give up cycling.

In 2012, there were 33,561 car-related deaths on our nation’s highways, according to NHTSA. Despite the hazards mentioned by Leighton, scant few of these were due to cycling-related mishaps. But when a vehicle and a cyclist clash, it is usually the cyclist who suffers most.


Even if laws were changed to state that cyclists “ride at their own risk,” would that make it acceptable to run down a cyclist in the roadway? No one wants to be involved in a vehicular accident that results in someone’s injury or death.

The Bicycle Coalition of Maine points out that, “by far, most serious bike accidents occur because motorists claim they did not see the bicyclist.”

Cyclists should use proper lighting and reflectors and wear appropriate and highly visible clothing to help minimize those risks. That is the law when riding after dark.

Cyclists need to obey all traffic laws and ride as safely as possible so we can all share the roads and get home safely.

In turn, drivers ought to turn off their cell phones, avoid distractions, and watch the road. It is the motorist’s responsibility to be able to control his vehicle under all conditions.

We have seen an increasing interest in cycling in this state with events such as The Dempsey Challenge, The Trek Across Maine, the Maine Lobster Ride, and many others that attract thousands of people to Maine.

The Bicycle Coalition, and the Maine Cycling Club, to which I belong, are committed to raising the awareness of safe cycling practices in our communities. Hopefully we will all benefit from these efforts and that motorists and cyclists will learn to “share the road.”

We are all neighbors, we all want to enjoy this life, and we are all more human than otherwise.

William Phillips of Auburn is a member of the Maine Cycling Club.

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