The Law is Clear for Motorists and Bicyclists

Los Alamos Police Capt. Randy Foster, left, and bicycling safety expert Khal Spencer at police headquarters talk about roadway safety for motorists and bicyclists. Photo by Carol A. Clark/

By Carol A. Clark

In the last few months, there have been two crashes on Diamond Drive that occurred when a right turning motorist crossed the new bike lanes in close proximity to a bicyclist riding in the bike lane.

Some of the law is not exactly clear with regard to sharing roads with bike lanes and turning across bike lanes, but the law on changing lanes is crystal clear.

When turning right across a bike lane, a motorist is moving out of his lane and across the bike lane, the same applies to a bicyclist leaving the bike lane to make a left turn and Section 38-257: Driving on streets laned for traffic states:

Whenever any street has been divided into two or more clearly marked lanes for traffic, the following rules in addition to all others consistent herewith shall apply:

(1) A vehicle shall be driven as nearly as practicable entirely within a single lane and shall not be moved from such lane until the driver has first ascertained that such movement can be made with safety;

“The law is in black and white and reinforces best practice,” said Khal Spencer who co-authored the 2005 Los Alamos County Bicycling Transportation System (Bike Plan.) “Some of the scary interactions leading to close calls and crashes are in the shades of grey area of applying the law, or are caused by inattention. Safe, alert, defensive driving and biking can keep you out of harm’s way.”

Spencer participated in a meeting at the Los Alamos Police Department in June regarding bike and motorist safety. Police Chief Wayne Torpy, Capt. Randy Foster, County Engineer Kyle Zimmerman and County Transportation Division Manager Nancy Talley were at the meeting.

“Summer is here so more people are outside and we want to remind everyone about bike safety,” Foster said. “We want people to be especially careful with regard to bikes and cars in congested areas such as on Diamond Drive from Sandia to the bridge and especially during rush hour traffic. It’s important for bicyclists to ride defensively but it’s also just as important for motorists to drive defensively.”

So if you are the motorist:

  1. If you are planning a right turn on a road with bike lanes, make sure you watch to see if you have safely overtaken a cyclist before going into your turn. The act of turning causes you to slow down and that cyclist you passed may have caught up to you.
  2. Signal your turn in advance and check your blind spot before turning to make sure there is not a bicyclist on your right or about to overtake you.
  3. If you see a cyclist slightly in front of you and you are approaching a right turn, it is wise to let the cyclist proceed through the intersection and turn behind the cyclist. Speeding up to pass the cyclist and then slowing down to turn can result in a crash.
  4. Cyclists and motorcyclists are more vulnerable than you are. A crash with a bicyclist or motorcyclist can cause more serious bodily injury. Train yourself to be aware of these smaller vehicles.

If you are the cyclist:

  1. Watch for motor vehicles slowing down and using their turn signals as you approach intersections and driveways. If a motorist is slowing down as he approaches an intersection, whether or not he is indicating a turn, he may be preparing to turn right across your path. You need to work together.
  2. If you speed up to pass a motorist on the motorist’s right, you are in that motorist’s blind spot and he can’t see you. That could result in a crash if you pass on the right while approaching an intersection or when passing a driveway and the motorist indeed turns.
  3. If motor vehicle traffic is slowed down due to heavy demand, be aware of locations where a motorist can turn across your path. Ride defensively at an appropriate speed, keep your head up, and be observant.
  4. If you are travelling at the speed of traffic in a busy area or one where the bike lane may not be clearly visible from side streets or parking lot entrances, one can signal and merge out of the bike lane (safely ) or slow down to a prudent speed in the bike lane.
  5. Cyclists and motorcyclists are more vulnerable than motorists and you are not as visible as a car. You must take this into account and ride your bicycle (or motorcycle) with extra awareness for your own safety. Stay alert, practice situational awareness, and always wear a helmet to protect your head in the unlikely event of a crash.

“Bottom line is that motorists and cyclists are both operators of vehicles and responsible for both their own and other’s safety,” Spencer said. “There is no easy, quick, and foolproof fix to having bike lanes next to driveways, side streets, and other midblock curb cuts. If there were, we would have thought of it already. Both motorist and cyclist are responsible for being observant, aware of each other’s presence, and negotiate safe passage to their destinations in an area which is busy, such as Diamond Drive south of Orange/Sandia.”

This van driver gives bicyclists plenty of clearance as he passes them on N.M. 4 recently. Photo by Carol A. Clark/

Photo by Carol A. Clark/

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