Laws for Motor Vehicles Everyone Should Know
Summarized for cyclists and pedestrians who want to know the real deal.
There are several laws in New York State, New York City and many other U.S. jurisdictions designed to protect bicyclists and pedestrians.
Though there could be more protections under the law to prevent accidents and injuries – especially those caused through malice or recklessness – here are a few laws that protect bicyclists and pedestrians:
Opening and closing vehicle doors
This section pertains to “getting doored” one of the most common causes of injuries to city cyclists. When it happens, the law is usually on the side of the cyclist. Here’s the letter of the law: ”No person shall open the door of a motor vehicle on the side available to moving traffic unless and until it is reasonably safe to do so, and can be done without interfering with the movement of other traffic, nor shall any person leave a door open on the side of a vehicle available to moving traffic for a period of time longer than necessary to load or unload passengers.”
Traffic laws apply to persons riding bicycles. This means every person “riding a bicycle upon a roadway” has all the rights and privileges that under the law are granted to drivers of motor vehicles.
Overtaking a vehicle.
The law states that a driver of a vehicle overtaking another vehicle – including a bicycle – while proceeding in the same direction “shall pass to the left thereof at a safe distance and shall not again drive to the right side of the roadway until safely clear of the overtaken vehicle.”
Following too closely.
Cars may not tailgate cyclists: “The driver of a motor vehicle shall not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard for the speed of such vehicles and the traffic upon and the condition of the highway.”
Drivers to exercise due care.
This statute is broad and helps protect all of us from motor vehicles that think bike or walkers “don’t belong on the road.” It says that, “Every driver of a vehicle shall exercise due care to avoid colliding with any bicyclist, pedestrian or domestic animal upon any roadway.”
Accidents and the Law
Bikes can cause accidents. Pedestrians can, too. But the fact is that most accidents, including fatal crashes, are caused by motor vehicles that violate traffic laws. In one study, the group Right Of Way reviewed police accident reports for fatal bicycle crashes during four years in the nineties. They discovered that 75% of the fatal accidents were caused by traffic-law violations.
In New York City, traffic-law violations by motorists are the main cause of fatal bicyclist accidents. Accident record show that “driver error” is the principal cause of more than half of fatal bicycle crashes — and a contributing cause in about three-quarters of accidents.
The most common traffic-law violations causing bicyclist accidents and fatalities include:
- drivers passing cyclists aggressively or unsafely
- drivers opening vehicle doors unsafely
- drivers turning into a bicyclist’s path
- motor vehicles that ignore stop signs or run red lights
Bicyclist error is the primary cause of accidents and fatalities less than 24% of the time
The most common errors by cyclists that cause accidents or fatalities:
- Ignoring stop signs or running red light
- Traveling the wrong way on a street
Source: Transportation Alternatives
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