Laws Affecting Motorists and BicyclesThis is the second article in a two-part mini-series about the interaction between motor vehicles and bicycles. In the first part of the series, I explained the laws that govern bicyclists on roadways. Today, we turn to the rules that control the actions of motorists when they interact with bicycles.

Rules Of The Road That Apply To Motorists Interacting With Bicycles

In Maryland, these are the laws that govern a motorist interacting with a bicycle. (As you go through these, please remember that a bicycle is considered a “vehicle.”)

  • The driver of a vehicle overtaking another vehicle (including a bicycle) which is going in the same direction must pass to the left of the overtaken vehicle at a safe distance.

  • The driver of a vehicle overtaking another vehicle which is going in the same direction may not drive any part of his vehicle directly in front of the overtaken vehicle until safely past it.

  • The driver of a vehicle must not pass any closer than three (3) feet from a bicycle if the bicycle is operated in a lawful manner.

  • After passing a bicycle, a driver must make sure s/he is clear of the bicyclist before making any turns. The bike has the right of way, and the driver must yield to the bike when turning.

  • Bicycles have the right-of-way in bike lanes and on shoulders.

  • Motorists must to yield right of way to a bicyclist operating lawfully in a crosswalk at a signalized intersection. (If a bicycle is lawfully riding on a sidewalk, it can use a crosswalk.)

  • A person may not throw any object at or in the direction of any person riding a bicycle.

  • A person may not open the door of a motor vehicle with intent to strike, injure, or interfere with any person riding a bicycle.

In a nutshell, motorists must pass bicycles carefully (with at least 3 feet of clearance), not cut them off and yield to them in bicycle lanes, on shoulders and when turning in front of them. Oh yea, and you can’t throw things at them or try to knock the riders senseless with your car door!

Example of How The Rules Of The Road Are Applied

This is an actual discussion that I had with a caller recently . . .

A man told me that he was riding his bicycle in Baltimore City at night, after dark, when a car door was opened into his path, causing him to ram into the driver’s door. His bicycle was damaged and he was injured.

The bicyclist was riding at a safe speed and watching where he was going. His bicycle did not have a headlight, but this incident occurred in a well-lit area of downtown Baltimore.

The bicyclist wanted to know if he had a legitimate claim against the driver of the car for his injuries and for repair of his bicycle,

What do you think? How strong is the bicyclist’s claim?

My opinion was that the vehicle driver was probably negligent for opening her door without looking for oncoming traffic and for not seeing the bicyclist.

However, it was also my opinion that the bicyclist was probably contributorily negligent for riding a bicycle that did not have the required headlight. If he had a headlight, there would have been a much better chance that he would have been seen.

My opinion was that a jury would probably find the lack of a headlight to be a cause of the accident and would rule that the bicyclist was contributorily negligent.

As you may recall, in Maryland any contributory negligence — no matter how slight — is a complete defense to a negligence claim. That’s why I did not think this man could recover. I thanked him for calling, answered all his questions but declined his case.

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**These questions and answers are designed to provide helpful information that can be read quickly. They are neither a full explanation of the subject nor legal advice. To learn more, and to receive legal advice on which you can rely, contact me or another lawyer.