Many bicyclists feel uncomfortable bicycling on the road, and that fear may be warranted. Bicyclists do not have the same protection as motor vehicle drivers have, so when bicycles and cars collide, the bicyclist often experiences catastrophic injuries. In 2017, 783 bicyclists were killed in traffic crashes in the United States, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Although your feeling of unease may be understandable, it may not be necessary. By confidently controlling the lane in appropriate situations, you may reduce some of the risks you face when bicycling on the road.
How can riding on the right side be dangerous?
You may have been taught to ride on the right side of the road in the same direction as motorized traffic. This advice is still valid because bicycles must obey many of the same laws as motorized vehicles and slower traffic should generally stay to the right. However, there are some situations when you may be inadvertently putting yourself at risk by bicycling too far to the right.
If you ride on the right edge of the rightmost lane, drivers may misjudge how safe it is to pass you. A driver might be tempted to try to squeeze by you when there is not room to safely pass. This can cause the you to be forced off the road or be hit by the car in what is called an overtaking crash.
Riding too far to the right can also increase your chance of being hit by a car beginning a right-hand turn or by a door of a parked car that is suddenly swung open. It can also encourage you to weave in and out of parked cars, which can be unpredictable to drivers.
When should you bicycle in the center of the right lane?
Bicycling in the center of a traffic lane may seem unsafe, but when used in appropriate circumstances, it actually reduces your chance of being hit by a car. Taking control of the lane makes you more visible to drivers and ensures you are out of the way of car doors that could open at any time. Controlling the lane also benefits you by forcing motorized vehicles to fully change lanes when passing you, instead of trying to squeeze by.
It may be appropriate to take control of the lane in situations when it would be unsafe for a motorist to pass you anyway. It may be necessary to take control of the lane:
- On a narrow roadway with cars coming in both directions
- On a narrow roadway with an upcoming blind curve
- On a road with cars on two or more narrow lanes in your direction
- When you are traveling as fast as cars are traveling
- When there is gravel, sand, trash, broken pavement or debris on the edge of the road
It is generally safest to ride in a straight line in a position of the roadway where everyone can see you. Keep in mind that in some circumstances, the safest place to bicycle may be the center of the rightmost lane.