Under Washington law, bicycles are classified as vehicles. If a motorist is at a stop sign, they need to yield to a bicyclist who has right of way. If a motorist wants to make a turn, they must wait for any bicycles travelling through the intersection to pass before turning. Bicyclists have the same rights as motorists to be on the road, even if the cyclist is going below the speed limit.
When you get to a bike box, the green painted area immediately before an intersection, do not drive past the outline and into the box. This area is for bikes only. You are not allowed any free right turns through a bike box during a red light, either; only when your light is green can you pass through it. This is true regardless of the time of day or whether or not there are any cyclists waiting in the bike box, as indicated by the “no turn on red” signs. If you’re not sure what a bike box looks like, the National Association of City Transportation Officials has a few visuals to educate you.
Being struck by a turning vehicle is one of the most common ways bicyclists are injured or even killed by motorists. When turning a corner or pulling into a driveway, keep your eyes open for any bicycles approaching or possibly riding in your blind spot. If one is approaching, don’t rush to try to beat them. Instead, wait for them to pass you safely before making your turn.
When opening your car door when parking on the street, you should use the “Dutch Reach.” Dutch people use their right hand to open the driver’s side door and vice versa because of the number of cyclists in the Netherlands. The Dutch Reach forces you to turn your body so that you can see behind the car for any approaching cyclists. This “Reach” protects bicyclists from being “doored.”
Lastly, make sure you give bicycles at least three feet of room when you pass. The Revised Code of Washington 46.61.110 states that you must pass vehicles with a safe distance between the two of you, and the Washington State Driver’s Manual states that three feet is the minimum safe distance required. By giving bicyclists three feet of room, not only will the bicyclist have more room to navigate around potholes and other obstacles, but you won’t risk clipping them with your side mirror when you pass them. Be extra vigilant this time of year as the days get longer and more people are on the road cycling.
Ken Selander is a Seattle plaintiff’s personal injury attorney with a focus on bicycle injuries. He is a Cascade Bicycle Club member and has participated in the Seattle to Portland ride. If you are a bicyclist who has been hit by a careless or distracted motorist, call Ken at 206.723.8200 for a free consultation.