Bicycle Safety Starts With Knowing the Rules of the Road

Jun 07, 2017

Bicycle safety is more than just making sure the tires are properly inflated and you have the appropriate helmet and other safety gear. Whether bicycling for leisure, exercise or sport, there’s something every bicyclist needs to know about doing it in New Jersey: Rules and regulations fall under Chapter 39, which also dictates motor vehicle and traffic laws.

For the throngs of bicyclists traveling in the Garden State, the law is clear: “Bicyclists must obey all state and local automobile driving laws.” It further lays out specific regulations on a long-debated issue in most of the Long Beach Island communities, whether bicyclists can ride two abreast. The answer is twofold: Yes, when traffic is not obstructed, but otherwise bicyclists should ride single file, and travel in the same direction as vehicular traffic.

“A lot of people don’t realize you bike with traffic. That’s huge. We hear that a lot,” Thomas Walters, owner of Walters Bicycles, said, adding he sees a lot happen in front of his door. “Bikers feel it’s safer to ride against traffic because they can see what’s coming at them.”

He said the same is true for bikers who ride on the sidewalk, even though that, too, is against the law.

“You wouldn’t drive your car down the wrong side of the street or on a sidewalk,” Ship Bottom Traffic Safety Officer Ronald Holloway said. “You shouldn’t do it with your bicycle either.”

The proper way to travel by bicycle is to always remember you want to be on the right side of the roadway, he said.

“You never want to be on the left,” Holloway said. “That’s when bad things happen. You want to stay with the flow of traffic.”

Still, state statute does allow for a bicyclist to move left to make a left turn from a left turn lane; to avoid debris, drains or other hazardous conditions; to pass a slower moving vehicle; and to occupy an available lane when traveling at the same speed as other traffic. It does not permit bicyclists to use the roadways as a bicycle lane, making it difficult and even dangerous for motorists, walkers, skateboarders, etc.

“It is difficult in the summer,” Holloway said, adding that Long Beach Boulevard acts like a five-lane highway running through the center of the borough during the summer with a majority of motorists, bicyclists and walkers passing through. “It can get kind of crazy.”

There are designated bicycle lanes on Barnegat Avenue, which does relieve some of the tension that flares among motorists, bicyclists and others.

“We have issued summonses,” Holloway said, adding they use each opportunity to educate bicyclists about the laws and remind them of the helmet law. In New Jersey, all bicyclists and their passengers under 17 must wear a safety helmet. “It’s protecting you.”

Walters said he gets a lot of questions about the helmet laws in his shop.

“You know what I say? Forget 17 and under; everyone should wear a helmet,” he said.

Additionally, Holloway wants bicyclists to remember they should wear reflective clothing and have lights on their bikes when traveling at night.

“You want to be seen, to be lit up,” he said, adding everyone should know the rules of the road whether they’re local or visiting. “The same rules apply to driving. Pay attention, put the phone down. If you’re going to ‘drive,’ you need to know the rules.”

Here are a few points to remember about bicycling in New Jersey:

• Every person riding a bicycle on a roadway is granted all the rights and subject to all of the duties of the motor vehicle driver.

• Bicyclists should ride about 4 feet from parked cars to avoid the possibility of having a door opened in their path.

• When in use at night every bicycle should have a white-light front headlamp visible from a distance of at least 500 feet to the front, a rear lamp emitting a red light visible from a distance of at least 500 feet to the rear, and a red reflector mounted on the rear of the bicycle.

• A bicycle must be equipped with a bell or other audible device that can be heard at least 100 feet away, but not a siren or whistle.

— Gina G. Scala


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