In new drivers manual, MVA gets something right

Sometimes the best thing a columnist can do is make way for the good sense of others. This is one of those times.

In this case, that common sense is provided by an unlikely source — the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration.

Now the MVA does a lot of things wrong. Who of us has not griped about waiting in line at one of its offices? (To be fair, on my last visit, I was in and out with a replacement driver's license in 10 minutes.) But the MVA has a new version of its Maryland Drivers Manual out on the street, and the section on bicycles is clear and well-stated.

Many of us received our licenses at a time when driver's education hardly mentioned the subject of co-existing with bicycles. So what the MVA wrote is worth reviewing.

Credit should go to the agency for reaching out to bicycle advocacy groups for help in drafting this section. Take it away, MVA:


By Maryland law, bicycles are vehicles. Bicyclists are authorized users of the roadway, and have rights-of-way and the same duty to obey all traffic signals as motorists. But bicyclists are less visible, quieter, and don't have a protective barrier around them. Motorists must drive carefully near bicyclists: Even a slight mistake can result in serious injury or even death.

Expect Bicyclists on the Road

Expect to find a bicyclist on all types of roads (except interstate highways and toll facilities), at all intersections and roundabouts, in all types of weather, and at all times of the day and night. Bicyclists may ride out in the travel lane for their own safety due to narrow roads, or to avoid obstacles or pavement hazards. On roads without shoulders, or with cars parked along the right side, often the safest place for a bicyclist to ride is in the center of the lane. In Maryland, a bicyclist may use the full lane even while traveling substantially below the speed of traffic if the lane is too narrow for a car to safely pass a bicycle within the lane. Before opening a car door, check for bicyclists who may be approaching from behind.

Following a Bicyclist

As you approach a bicyclist, slow down. Avoid honking your horn. Bicyclists can usually hear an approaching vehicle and loud noises can startle bicyclists, causing a crash. Bicycles do not have turn signals so bicyclists use hand and arm signals to alert you of their intentions.

Do not follow a bicycle too closely. Remember that small holes, glass, and other hazards can be particularly dangerous to bicyclists. Bicycles can stop and maneuver quickly so a bicyclist may swerve or change speed to avoid a road hazard that a motorist cannot see.

Pass with Care — Give Bikes at Least 3 Feet

Pass a bicyclist as you would any slowly moving vehicle. Be prepared to slow down, wait until oncoming traffic is clear and then allow at least 3 feet of clearance between your car and the bicyclist when passing. The same 3-foot clearance applies if you are passing a bicyclist in a bike lane, on the shoulder, or in the same lane as your car. After passing a bicyclist, check your mirror to ensure that you have completely passed the bicycle with enough room before you move back to the right.

Use Caution at Intersections, Bridges and Driveways

Always assume that bicyclists are traveling straight through an intersection unless they signal otherwise, and yield to bicycles just as you would to any other vehicle. Bicyclists often ride on sidewalks and trails, so look both ways before crossing a sidewalk or trail. A bicycle may come from an unexpected direction.

Never make a right turn from a through lane immediately after passing a bike on a shoulder or bike lane. Try to avoid any chance that a bicycle will be to your right or in your right blind spot when you turn right. Before starting a right turn, move as far to the right as practicable within the bike lane, shoulder, or right turn lane.

Yield to bicycles as to any other vehicle proceeding straight. Do not turn left immediately in front of a bicycle. Experienced bicyclists often ride very fast (as fast as 35 mph!) and may be closer than you think. If you are passing a left-turning vehicle by moving right, first look closely for bicycles. Wherever a travel way narrows for a bridge, parked cars, or other obstructions on the right, be prepared for a bicyclist riding on the shoulder to merge left into the main traffic lane.

Driving at Night

If you see a dim reflective object at night do not assume that it is outside of the roadway. It could be a bicycle in the main travel lane. Bicyclists sometimes avoid shoulders at night when cars are not present because tree branches, potholes, debris, and even the edge of the pavement are difficult to see. Your headlights may provide enough light for the bicyclist to safely move into the shoulder for you to pass, but it takes longer at night. When approaching a bicycle, use your low beam headlights.

Watch for Children

Children on bicycles are sometimes unpredictable. Expect the unexpected and remember they are small in stature and may be hard to see. Young bicyclists are especially likely to make surprising changes in direction. Be aware of bicyclists entering the roadway from driveways or near parked cars. Strictly observe speed limits in school zones and in residential areas to allow time to see, and safely share the road with, young bicyclists.

Comment from your host

Good job, MVA. Now we need an equally well-crafted section on bicyclists' interactions with pedestrians. It wouldn't hurt to remind bikers that their infractions can have fatal consequences — and did recently for a pedestrian in San Francisco.


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