Change the law. Change the world.

Note: Suggested law changes appear below; these posts will be moved to a separate page next week

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that most traffic laws weren’t written with bicyclists in mind.

The vast majority of traffic laws were designed to move cars from here to there, as safely and efficiently as possible. In theory, anyway.

Few, if any, were written by cyclists, or with the participation of anyone who has ever been on a bike beyond the age of 12. As a result, bike traffic has been nothing more than an afterthought shoehorned into the laws and traffic lanes — without regard to whether it actually made sense, in terms of safety or efficiency.

That may have worked in decades past when most cyclists never left their own neighborhoods, and spandex-clad riders were an anomaly on the roadway.

But things have changed. Today, more and more cyclists are sharing traffic-clogged roads, as high gas prices and environmental concerns drive commuters out of their cushy SUVs and onto the saddle. And countless other people are discovering the health benefits of cycling; others just plain enjoy riding.

Government has a significant stake in promoting this increase in bicycling. Rising obesity rates, along with related problems such as increases in diabetes rates and high blood pressure, demand that more emphasis be placed on the health and fitness of their citizens. At the same time, increasing traffic congestion — and perhaps the very survival of our planet — requires that something be done to reduce the amount of cars on the road.

As a result, our state and local governments have an obligation to reform traffic laws to encourage cycling and protect the safety of all bicyclists, whether they use their bikes for recreation or transportation.

Over the next few days, I’m going to take a look at some ways the existing laws regarding can, and should, be changed. Changes that could help us all get home safely, and make every ride a little more enjoyable.

Feel free to offer your own comments and suggestions, and maybe together we can do something to change the laws. And help get more people out of their cars, and on their bikes.

Note: After appearing here first, this series of posts will eventually migrate to a new Bike Law page, replacing the “Things I’ve learned on my bike” page.


No Whip lets other bloggers tell their story of the Furnace Creek 508 he recently finished. Tamerlane starts a new blog focusing exclusively cycling, and discovers what it’s like to have an extremely close call of his own, as does another rider on the Eastside. Long Beach is looking for volunteers to help count bikes in an effort to become more bicycle friendly. And finally, El Random Hero discusses an alternate form of alternative transportation.


  1. justwilliams says:

    A quick response “off the top of my head”:
    1/ Any change in the law needs to be standardised across the whole country and will require considerable political will against strong vested interests.
    2/ All drivers need to be made aware of the revised laws – whether they are interested or not.
    3/ All drivers need to revise their driving accordingly – whether they like it or not.

    Numbers 2 and 3 are painfully obvious but also massive challenges.

  2. bikinginla says:

    Normally, I’d agree with you — and you’re dead on with Nos. 2 & 3. Problem is, in this country, traffic laws are written on a state-by-state basis; under the Constitution, the federal government has no authority to impose or enforce traffic regulations. (However, they sometimes get around that by threatening to cut the states’ highway funding if they don’t pass certain laws, like when the speed limit was lowered to 55, or when the legal drinking age was raised to 21.)

  3. disgruntled says:

    I understand that in Denmark & the Netherlands, the law is that in any collision between a bike & a car, the car is assumed to be at fault unless proved otherwise. That in itself removes the need for more detailed legislation as the onus is then on the drivers to drive carefully and do whatever it takes to avoid an accident. I’d love to see this in the UK too… And the same should go for car (and or bike) vs. pedestrian – the stronger, faster, more dangerous party is assumed to be at fault.

  4. bikinginla says:

    I’d heard that as well, and that’s one of the suggestions I’ve been debating adding as I go on with this — that the more vulnerable vehicle or pedestrian should enjoy a greater degree of protection. That is, that the driver of a car should bear a greater responsibility for driving safely than a rider on a bike or a pedestrian, because his vehicle is capable of causing more harm. Although I suspect that here in auto-centric America, the chance of getting something like that passed is close to nil.

  5. I’d love to see these changes. We should start with pressuring California. Although every state sets their own vehicle laws, most states base their laws and interpretation of those laws by what other states are doing. I’ve also just become aware of the Uniform Vehicle Code, which is a code of laws independent of state that most states base their laws upon. I just started reading Bicycling & The Law, and I highly recommend it to any cyclist who spends anytime pondering their relationship to the legal system, and it’s full of great advice to legally protect your self.

  6. bikinginla says:

    Thanks, Gary. Actually, my idea was to gather input from my fellow cyclists, then take this up with my state legislators after the election. I wasn’t aware of the UVC myself, but a Google search brought it up, along with the page pertaining to bicycles; looks like I’ve got some reading to do. And speaking of reading, thanks for mentioning Bob Mionske’s Bicycling & the Law; I’ve enjoyed his column in VeloNews and have been curious out his book. Do you know if it’s available locally?

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