Sharing the road with other road users
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Sharing The Road: Rules for Pedestrians, Bicycles and Motorists

Updated July 4, 2019

Driving a motor vehicle is both a privilege and a serious responsibility. The actions you take while behind the wheel will impact your safety and the safety of all other road users nearby. To become a good, safe driver you must know the rules of the road and respect them. This includes having a sound understanding of correct driving procedures in different situations, developing a good attitude toward laws, and toward other people using the road. Courtesy must always be shown to other road users.

You will share the road with many different types of road user – we are not just talking about other motorists. Vehicles and pedestrians are the two primary categories of road user which make up the Highway Transportation System (HTS). Bicycles, passenger cars, motorcycles, trucks, buses, slow-moving vehicles and light rail vehicles are among the many types of vehicle included in the HTS.

Dealing with pedestrians is no less complicated than dealing with other vehicles. There are many different varieties of pedestrian, including runners, skateboarders, children on push-powered toys and people using assistive disability devices. Not to mention your average sidewalk user, strolling along with headphones in their ears and no regard for traffic or their own safety.

Pedestrian safety for drivers

Drivers must understand that walkers, runners, children on skates, crosswalk users, people with disabilities, road workers and other pedestrians are among the most at-risk road users. Keeping them safe is a shared responsibility. Pedestrians have the right-of-way on sidewalks and on crosswalks unless a DON’T WALK signal is active, whereas drivers and other vehicle users have right-of-way on the roads. As a motorist you must always be prepared to yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian, irrespective of who is “lawfully” correct.

The penalties incurred when a pedestrian is injured in a collision vary quite dramatically around the United States. Check your local driver’s handbook for details and tips on how to avoid an auto-pedestrian accident. While every situation is different, one thing is practically always true: in a vehicle-pedestrian collision, the pedestrian will come off substantially worse than the occupants of the vehicle. With the added protection and power that an automobile affords you, comes a great deal of additional responsibility.

Protect yourself as a pedestrian

You are a pedestrian when travelling on foot. Your safety as a pedestrian is your responsibility, more so than it is that of any other road user. Always use properly marked pedestrian crossings to cross the street, avoiding crossing between intersections or “jaywalking” unless no other safe crossing points are available.

Understand that intersections with STOP signs and pedestrian traffic signals do not guarantee your safety. You may have lawful right-of-way when a STOP sign or a WALK signal is present, but this does not mean that nearby drivers have observed these signs, are willing to obey them or have even spotted you waiting to cross. Assuming any of these things at a crosswalk could cost you your life.

As a pedestrian you must also know the laws in your state regarding roads with no sidewalk, toll bridges, highways and hitchhiking. This knowledge will keep you safe and help you avoid the fines and penalties which breaking the rules may incur. The best source of information on these topics is your state driving manual.

Bicycle rules for cyclists and drivers

Cyclists are subject to the same rights and duties as car drivers, as bicycles are legally defined as vehicles. Rules concerning use of helmets and other safety protocol for cyclists are different state-by-state. Though, when riding a bicycle on the roads anywhere you must be prepared to obey all traffic laws, signals and signs, yield the right-of-way and follow the same rules as car drivers. While there is no difference in rules for car drivers and cyclists, you must adjust your behaviour on the roads to account for the fact that riding a bike puts you at significantly greater risk of harm.

Your main responsibilities as a bicyclist include:

  • Always riding on the right-hand side of the street
  • Using a bicycle lane where appropriate
  • Using hand signals to indicate all turns and lane changes
  • Ensuring your bicycle meets federal safety requirements
  • Adhering to state-specific light and reflector rules (see your state’s driving manual)
  • Never drinking and riding
  • Always yielding to pedestrians on sidewalks and crossings

Always be on the lookout for cyclists when you are driving a car. Bicycle riders have all the same rights as you do as a motorist yet are far more susceptible to injury when things go wrong. You should never follow a cyclist too closely, pass them before making a right turn or attempt to squeeze past a cyclist who is sharing your lane.

Sharing the road with motorcyclists

Like bicyclists, motorcyclists have the same rights and must follow the same rules as car drivers. As a driver, you must be aware that motorcyclists do not have the protection of an enclosed vehicle and are far more likely to be killed or injured during a collision.

Above all else, remember that motorcycles are smaller and therefore much harder to spot than other vehicles. You must teach yourself to look out for motorcycles whenever and wherever you are driving. Motorcycle-automobile accidents are usually caused by careless drivers who fail to search adequately for motorcyclists before maneuvering.

Safety rules for motorcyclists

The number-one rule for all motorcyclists is simple: ride defensively. Your vehicle is smaller, lighter, less powerful and less visible than most others on the road; this can be a deadly combination. All motorcyclists must ensure their motorcycle is properly equipped and adheres to federal safety standards, before taking it out on the roads. This will include conducting a thorough vehicle inspection before every journey.

Always check your driver’s handbook or motorcycle manual for state-specific safety rules and optional precautions. It is advisable to take all available safety measures, even if that measure is not a legal requirement. For instance, it is legal in some states to ride a motorcycle without a helmet, though it is never a good idea to do so. Make sure you use your state handbook to check the laws regarding lane-splitting, helmet use and carrying passengers before taking your motorcycle out for a spin.

Trucks

Sharing the road with very large vehicles such as cargo trucks carries its own set of challenges. These vehicles are far heavier than the average passenger vehicle, have longer stopping distances, a wider turning circle and bigger blind spots. As a car driver, you will need to compensate for these issues by allowing large trucks more time and space to maneuver. You must also avoid the blind spots or “no-zones” immediately to the front, rear and rear-sides of the truck. While occupying these spaces you cannot be seen from the truck driver’s seat.

Be cautious when passing any truck and do so on the left whenever possible, taking care not to linger in a blind spot. Always keep your distance when an intersection or turn is approaching, as the truck driver will need more space to complete a maneuver than the driver of a smaller vehicle. Trucks making right turns pose a hazard, as their off-tracking may make it appear as if they are turning left or going straight on. Car drivers who attempt to pass trucks on the right are a common cause of collisions.

The most important thing to keep in mind about trucks and other similarly weighted vehicles is that they cannot stop quickly. Never pull out in front of a truck and brake or slow down suddenly, as it is unlikely that the driver will be able to slow the truck rapidly enough to avoid hitting you.

Trains and light rail vehicles (LRV)

Vehicle-train collisions occur more often than most drivers realize and are devastating for everyone involved. These collisions are not usually the result of malfunctioning warning signals, but of impatient motorists making careless decisions. Ignoring red warning lights and protective gates, attempting to “beat” a train through a crossing or failing to check for approaching trains subjects you and your passengers to enormous risk of injury and death.

Always stop at least 15ft away from a railway crossing and look for trains on every track before proceeding across, even if red warning lights and a safety barrier are present but inactive, as they may not be working correctly. If multiple tracks pass through a single crossing, this will be shown with a number beneath the white crossbuck marking the railroad. Understand that trains are often travelling faster than they appear and are heavy enough to crush a car like a soda can.

Motorists must yield to trams, trolleys, streetcars, cable cars and other light rail vehicles, just as they would for another motorist. Light rail vehicles on the roadway have the same rights and duties as car drivers. Always be aware of light rail vehicle routes, maintain a safe distance and do not attempt to race them through an intersection.

Safe railroad crossing rules

When you are certain it is safe to cross a railroad, drive over the line at around 10mph as dawdling could get your vehicle stuck part-way across. If your car ever stalls or becomes stuck on a railway line, get out and move away from the vehicle immediately. Use the emergency contact number displayed near the track to notify authorities. If a train is approaching, run away from the track but toward the train, at roughly a 45-degree angle.

Follow this guidance to stay safe around railway crossings:

  1. 1

    Never stop your vehicle on a railway track

  2. 2

    Look for trains in both directions on every track

  3. 3

    Never assume that an inactive signal means it is safe to cross. Check visually before proceeding

  4. 4

    When in a line of traffic, make sure there is enough space for your vehicle on the other side of the track before proceeding

  5. 5

    Never drive around a closed railway crossing gate, even if you cannot see a train

Buses

Like trucks, buses are large, heavy and difficult to handle. Other road users must consider these limitations in order to share the road with buses safely. Bus drivers have limited visibility around their vehicles, so take care not to drive in their side blind spots or follow too closely from behind.

Remember that buses are passenger vehicles and as such, will stop regularly to collect and unload people. Keep an eye out for designated bus stops at the curbside and yield the right-of-way where possible.

School Buses

The rules governing motorist behavior around school buses are slightly different in every state, though uniformly strict everywhere in America. Like trucks and regular buses, school buses have limited visibility and maneuvering capability; yet they carry some of society’s most vulnerable people.

All road users must stop their vehicles no less than 20ft away from a stopped school bus, as there will likely be children attempting to cross the street. Only when the bus has started to move off may you once again proceed, with caution. Failing to stop at a stopped school bus is a serious offence, punishable with a fine, custodial sentence or both. Check your local driving handbook for details.

Animals

Horse riders and horse-drawn vehicles have the same rights and responsibilities as car drivers. Reduce your speed when approaching and passing horses, only proceeding when the road is wide enough to do so safely. Keep an eye on the horse riders as they approach you from the opposite direction, as they may raise their hand to ask you to stop until they have passed.

Domestic and farm animals are not the only animals with which you must share the road. Be prepared to encounter wild animals such as deer, bears or coyotes. Areas where they are likely to be found on the roadway will be marked with a yellow, diamond-shaped warning sign. Take special care when travelling in these areas, leaving you high-beams on at night wherever possible. Should you encounter a wild animal, brake in a controlled manner and sound your horn. Swerving could cause or worsen a collision.

Emergency vehicles

Emergency vehicles such as fire trucks, police cruisers and ambulances always have right-of-way when their sirens and lights are active. They may also pass through red lights, exceed the speed limit and drive the wrong way up a one-way street, when responding to an emergency. Be aware that these vehicles can be extremely unpredictable. When you spot lights or hear sirens headed in your direction, pull over to make way for the emergency vehicle and then stop. Do not stop during an intersection.

If an emergency response vehicle is working on or next to the roadside, reduce your speed and if possible, move into a lane that is farther from the vehicle. Moving over in this way will make it easier for emergency responders to do their job. Drivers are lawfully bound to obey this rule in many states.

Slow-moving vehicles

Drivers must be prepared to encounter slow-moving vehicles and adjust speed in time to avoid a collision. Slow-moving vehicles are those designed to travel at a speed of 25mph or less, like tractors and motorized farm equipment, road maintenance vehicles and animal drawn vehicles. Most states require slow-moving vehicles to be marked with an orange, rear-facing, triangular emblem while they are driven on public roads. Keep within the speed limit and reduce your speed immediately if you spot a slow-moving vehicle up ahead.

Low-speed vehicles are permitted on some roads, depending on the state. Such vehicles include converted golf carts, quad bikes and other small recreational vehicles. Your state driver’s manual will let you know where and under what circumstances low-speed vehicles may be driven. In most cases, the drivers of these vehicles have the same rights and are bound by the same responsibilities as ordinary motorists.

 

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