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sharing the road with bikes

Cyclists help the environment by leaving their gas guzzlers at home. But they can pose a challenge to drivers who need to take extra precautions when sharing the road. We'll help you learn how to safely navigate cyclist-heavy streets.

Bikes and cars, side by side

Cycling continues to increase in popularity, meaning more cyclists are riding alongside cars in congested streets. According to seattle.gov, an estimated 3.2 million cyclists in the United States biked to work at least once a week in 2009.

The good news is that cities and towns are adding more bike lanes, making life easier for drivers and cyclists alike. The downside is what you might call the Paperboy Principle: more moving objects in the road make it harder to drive safely. Driving alongside cyclists can make traffic maneuvers, from turning right to parallel parking, more dangerous. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that car accidents injured about 51,000 cyclists in 2009.

Safety tips for drivers when sharing the road with cyclists

Even though cyclists can be liable for motor vehicle accidents, the unspoken onus is on drivers to make the necessary adjustments and avoid collisions. These 7 tips can help:

  • Allow extra space when passing cyclists. Make sure you have at least 3 to 4 feet of space between you and a cyclist.
  • Slow down. Reduce your speed when approaching and passing a cyclist. This also lets tailing drivers know there's reason to slow down ahead.
  • Think of bikes as cars. Legally speaking, they are (or at least have the same rights and responsibilities as other vehicles). So give them the appropriate right-of-way and treat them with the same consideration you'd give another driver.
  • Better yet, think of bikes as cars without safety features. No seat belts or crumple zones, no air bags. Just a bicycle frame and hopefully a bike helmet. So while treating cyclists like drivers is legally accurate, it doesn't hurt to give them a little added leeway to help ensure their safety.
  • Keep your eyes open. Cyclists can be hard to see, especially in your mirror's "blind spots." Pay special attention driving through intersections and when parallel parking. Once you park, take a quick look for oncoming cyclists before opening your door.
  • Be extra cautious around child cyclists. Expect the unexpected when you see a child on a bike. Slow to a safer speed and give them as much room as you safely can.
  • Look for the signals. Keep an eye out for the left turn, right turn, and stop signals given by cyclists.
Image demonstrating the turn hand signals on a bicycle

Car insurance after an accident involving a cyclist

If you're at fault in an accident and a cyclist is injured, your liability coverage can help cover the cyclist's medical and bike repair expenses. On the other hand, the cyclist may be liable for your medical and repair expenses if found at fault.

If an accident happens

Bicycles are considered vehicles, so if you're in an accident with a cyclist, follow the same procedure as you would any other accident. Pull over as soon as it's safe, call the police, and give the cyclist your insurance information. Make sure medical help is on the way if there's any sign of injury. And file your car insurance claim as soon as you can — Esurance customers can do so online, through our smartphone site, or over the phone at 1-800-ESURANCE (1-800-378-7262) anytime.

Sharing is safer

With millions of miles of roads out there, it'll take awhile before bike lanes are universal. In the meantime, keep in mind that cyclists are legally required to drive on roads and you're legally required to treat bicycles as you do cars and trucks.

If you're an Esurance policyholder and have questions regarding your coverage in the event of an accident with a cyclist, give us a call at 1-800-ESURANCE (1-800-378-7262).

Related links

The 2-way street: driving tips from a cyclist
Get an Esurance cyclist's perspective on sharing the road.

Sharing the road with pedestrians
Cyclists aren't the only people on the road with drivers. Head to the Esurance blog for tips on sharing the road with pedestrians.