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The reasons why bicyclists should follow the laws applicable to them go beyond safety concerns.
Although exceptions like Idaho’s stop and yield law (bicyclists may stop and yield at red lights and yield at stop signs) do exist, people on bicycles are generally expected to follow the rules of the road as applied to motor vehicles. Make sure you’re familiar with your local laws; most states and local municipalities publish their traffic laws online, and a copy is typically available at the local library.
The reasons why bicyclists should follow the laws applicable to them go beyond safety concerns. Violation of a traffic statute is often considered to be negligence per se, meaning that the negligence of the action speaks for itself. This is true of moving violations, such as going the wrong way down a street, failure to yield or stop, and running a red light. Some non-moving violations, such as failure to equip your bicycle with proper lighting or brakes, may also be per se evidence of negligence. Violations like failure to have insurance or failure to have a valid license don’t necessarily indicate that the person acted or failed to act in a negligent manner in connection with the accident, so such violations may not be considered relevant when determining fault for an accident.
A bicyclist’s failure to adhere to applicable laws can be negligence per se, and therefore it may be used as evidence of comparative or contributory fault. If, for instance, a cyclist is “doored” or struck by a car at night, whether or not the cyclist is at fault for the collision may depend on whether the cyclist was using a headlight. Most jurisdictions require the use of a white headlight when riding at night. If the bicyclist fails to use a headlight and is struck by a car, the driver needs only to point to the lack of headlight to establish his or her defense.
I also believe it’s important that we follow the rules of the road because it helps portray bicycling as a civilized form of transportation. As advocates and cyclists push for more road resources and tax dollars for bicycling, we are more likely to face opposition from those who find cyclists irritating or unnecessary. We must promote the bicycle as the safe and civilized form of transportation it has historically been, both for our own safety and so that the opposition’s voice falls flat. If we do so, the bicycle is more likely to be seen as one of the solutions to urban America’s transportation issues rather than being part of the problem.
Jim Freeman is a personal injury lawyer in Chicago, Illinois. His practice concentrates mainly on advocating on behalf of the “vulnerable users” of roadways, such as bicyclists and pedestrians.