It All Cycles Back to the Law

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A few years ago I took up golf in part because it’s rare, albeit not impossible, to have a near death experience on the golf course. See, I’m not so good at physical risk-taking, which is exactly what I told Pat, the owner of my local bike shop.

Pat listened patiently as I explained that I hadn’t owned a bike since high school but that my friends kept bugging me to ride the Burlington bike path, and that one of those old fashioned kinds with the basket on the front would be probably be all I could handle.

“Just try out a few,” she insisted, and I decided to trust her.

First, I test-pedaled a bike built like a big, safe, rental car around the parking lot next to the shop. It seemed fine to me. But just like the fairy godmother in Cinderella, Pat waved her magic allen wrench and transformed me from a two-wheel wimp to a wild woman cyclist. By the end of the day, I was wheeling these zippy little Italian frames down Main Street, like I was heading for the finish line at the Tour de France.

OK, maybe I’m not that good yet, but I do have biking potential. So recently the new me took my new bike to the Burlington Bicycle Council Bike Summit. Their Motto: Live life without a windshield.

It’s good to be brave, but here’s what’s troubling. Of the eighty or so people at the meeting, more than a dozen had had a collision with a car. One of the main concerns of the Bicycle Council is educating the public about bicycle safety. It turns out that many of us don’t know the rules of the road, which can make traveling by bike or by car more dangerous than it needs to be.

And as a biking lawyer, I gotta say it all cycles back to the law. So here’s a little legal reminder that might make us all safer this summer:

In Vermont, cyclists have the same rights as people who drive cars. That means drivers have to treat bikes just as they would any other vehicle. Stay alert, slow down, and don’t give in to road rage.

All vehicles, with or without a windshield, share the freedom to travel on our publicly funded highways and roads.

In the same vein, cyclists have a responsibility to obey all traffic laws. It’s illegal to fly through stop signs and red lights when on a bike. True, rarely do the police stop bikes for traffic violations, but that’s no reason to intentionally break the law.

It’s one thing to be brave. It’s quite another to be stupid. Of the almost 700 bicyclists who died in collisions with cars last year, 90% of them weren’t wearing helmets.

Turns out that when both motorists and cyclists follow the law, biking with a helmet correctly placed on your head is actually safer than walking… and maybe even golfing.

This is Cheryl Hanna.

For more information on cycling in the Green Mountain State, you can contact the Burlington Bike Council.

Cheryl Hanna is a professor at Vermont Law School in South Royalton, Vermont.

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