Right to the road: Motorists and cyclists have same rights

Published: Friday, July 28 2006 12:00 a.m. MDT

Officers Ron Jackson and Brian Holst of the Draper Police Department hand out pamphlets about their rights and responsibilities to bike riders and motorists.

Edward Linsmier, Deseret Morning News

The morning of June 30, 2004, dawned beautiful and clear. As he did every day, Jason Bultman was riding his bike to work around 7:30 a.m.

Then he was hurled into every cyclist's nightmare.

A distracted motorist driving an SUV while talking on his cell phone collided with Bultman, causing multiple injuries, including a shattered ankle. Now, two years later, Bultman has had his fourth surgery to repair the damaged ankle and has been crippled since.

However, he still rides to work every day.

"I don't really have a better option. I'm not going to get into a car, because I hate cars; buses are too slow, and TRAX doesn't go where I need to go. Biking is the most efficient mode of transportation," he said. "Biking is much more enjoyable than sitting in a box, especially when it's a great day outside, or even when it's not a great day outside. . . . Biking is an outlet to exert and be free."

With summer in full swing, many bicyclists, such as Bultman, will be enjoying the great outdoors on the seat of a bicycle, whether they are riding to work or recreating. However, with greater numbers of cyclists, concerns regarding bicycle safety arise.

Bicycling safety woes

Statistics from the Utah Department of Health show each year approximately 870 Utah cyclists are hurt and six are killed in crashes with motor vehicles.

Statistics also reveal that from 1995-2004, Utah's bicyclist death rate was 11th highest in the nation. Sixty-three cyclists were killed during that time; 8,717 were hit by motor vehicles; 3,748 victims were children ages 5-14, and medical treatment for bike-crash injuries totaled $2.9 million. These numbers don't include cyclists who get hit but figure their injuries are not bad enough to report.

Cyndi Bemis, UDOH education coordinator, said that part of the problem stems from motorists' attitudes toward cyclists.

"Motorists don't respect bicyclists, who have every right to be on the road," she said.

One of the major areas of concern seems to be intersections, says Brian Price, a bicycle advocate.

"Here in the city we have quite a number of intersections, and it seems like that's where a lot of run-ins or runovers happen," he said. "Motorists need to be aware that cyclists do have the right to the road, and they need to be on the lookout for them when making a right or left turn, opening their doors when they're parked, backing into parking spaces, etc. We (cyclists) need to make sure that motorists know that we're out there and can see us."

Price said many times motorists get the mistaken impression that cyclists should be restricted to a certain area of the road, or bike lanes, if available, when they do have a right to the entire street, especially if there is debris or unsafe roadway conditions on the right side of the road.

However, motorists are only half the issue. Cyclists also create unsafe conditions. Dan Bergunthal, a Salt Lake City transportation engineer, said some of the major biking safety concerns stem from the commuting type of bikers who ride to work but don't obey traffic laws.

"(These riders are) a danger to themselves and to anyone who happens to be driving on the street," he said. "Whenever (bicyclists) come to an intersection, (they) need to be careful to look out for turning vehicles, because cars aren't looking for them and don't see them."

Part of the problem is that drivers don't know proper bike protocol.

"From a car point of view, really, drivers are uneducated, and they don't understand how to treat bicyclists," Bultman said.

Bemis says many cyclists don't understand that they are supposed to act like motorists. By law, bikes are the same as motor vehicles with the same rights and responsibilities, which includes obeying traffic laws.