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5 ways motorists can keep their bicyclist road companions safe

It's common to see bicyclists riding alongside motor vehicles on North Carolina roadways. This annoys and frustrates many motorists who wonder why bicyclists can't just ride on sidewalks or trails. Many drivers, including you, may think bicyclists just slow down traffic.

However, the North Carolina Department of Transportation categorizes bicycles as vehicles. This means bicyclists must obey the same traffic laws as you. More importantly, it legally gives them the same right to the road you have.

What can you do to improve bicyclist safety on the roadway?

According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2017 saw 783 fatal accidents involving bicyclists and motorists in the United States.

Calculated efforts by both you and bicyclists could improve safety for all who share the same roads. While bicyclists have certain responsibilities to follow when riding on busy highways, motorists have their own duties to help keep their bicyclist road companions safe. These duties include:

1. Avoid distracted driving: Actions such as eating, drinking, texting, fiddling with the radio and talking on the phone are all ways you might engage in distracted driving. Texting while driving is illegal in North Carolina, as is talking on your phone if you're under 18.

If you aren't paying attention to your surroundings, you might not be aware of approaching bicyclists. Bicyclists are already less visible than cars and more vulnerable in the event of an accident.

2. Don't underestimate their speed: It's important to yield to bicyclists. Accidents tend to occur in cases where drivers think they can beat a bicyclist across the road. This is common when a driver is making a left turn.

You may see the bicyclist but figure you have enough time to turn. However, they may be traveling as fast as 15-20 mph.

3. Be extra cautious when turning right: When turning right, look behind you to ensure there's not a bicyclist coming. There's no way of knowing where a bicyclist is if you don't look.

Bicyclists often ride a little behind and to the right of motor vehicles when planning to go straight.

4. Give bicyclists plenty of space: Getting too close to a bicyclist can be dangerous. Both you and they will have less reaction time in case one does something unexpected.

Additionally, North Carolina has a state statue regarding how close you can be to bicyclists when passing them. It requires you to give them at least two feet of space in a no-passing zone and four feet in a passing zone.

5. Exit your car cautiously: One of a bicyclist's greatest fears is getting "doored." There's a risk of bicyclists getting hit by your car door if you hastily exit your car without looking.

Think of a bicyclist as a person with the same goal as you, getting safely to your destination. Your car is more powerful and heavier than a bicycle, so it's important to drive defensively and act accordingly. Most drivers claim they just didn't see the bicyclist after an accident. Ultimately, it's everyone's responsibility to keep others safe on the road.

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John McCabe wrote "The Investigation and Analysis of Personal Injury Cases" in the best-selling book Personal Injury Practice in North Carolina. This is the book that other lawyers follow in handling personal injury cases.

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