EC Notebook #14: 6 Reasons to “Ride Right”

by Susie Jones

As a serious cyclist, you know to ride on the right side of the road in the same direction as other traffic. If someone asked you why, thou would you know how to explain your reasons? This edition of the League “Effective Cycling Notebook” offers ammunition for those times you need convince a friend, neighbor, child, or co-worker why this is such an intent aspect of safe bicycling.

FACT: Wrong-way cyclists make up only five percent of bicycle traffic, but are involved in 21 percent of total car-bike collisions. Many people believe that they are safer riding against traffic because they can “see what’s coming” – but only four to six percent of all car/bike collisions involve a cyclist being struck from behind. Real safety comes instead from travelling on the road in the same predictable manner as other road users.

Reasons to Ride on the Right:

  1. Motorists expect to find other traffic on the right. Wrong-way cyclists are outside of the normal searching patterns. This is especially important at intersections, where auto drivers may only be scanning where they expect to see other traffic.
  2. Turning maneuvers for wrong-way cyclists are more dangerous and complicated because a cyclist must cross paths with so many other vehicles on the road.
  3. Wrong-way cyclists are in head-on conflict with cyclists who are riding correctly, which can result in a net speed of impact of over 40 miles-per hour.
  4. The speed difference between a car and wrong-way cyclist in the same lane is much greater than for cyclists riding correctly. Any impact, therefore, will be much more damaging. In addition, approaching motorists have less time to respond to the presence of a wrong-way cyclist. A motorist has more time to react to a cyclist riding with traffic, and more time to plan to give the cyclist adequate room to share the road.
  5. Traffic control devices (such as stop lights, stop signs, and yield signs) and other important regulatory signs that apply to all road users can’t be seen as easily by cyclists riding on the wrong side of the road.
  6. If you need additional motivation, the Vehicle Codes of all 50 states require bicyclists to ride on the right with the flow of traffic.

There are exceptions to the strict rule of riding on the right, such as on one-way streets and when a cyclist is changing position to prepare for an upcoming maneuver. For more on these issues, see “E.C. Notebook” #5 (July/ August ’93) and #6 (Sept. ’93) on Lane Positioning; also see “E.C. Notebook” #10 (May/June ’94), “How Far Right Is Right?” Note that even in these cases, however, the cyclist is still riding with traffic and not against traffic.

Reprinted here by permission of Bicycle USA Magazine. Bicycle USA is a member benefit of the League of American Bicyclists. For further information on the League go to www.bikeleague.org.

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