Cyclists and drivers alike often misunderstand or simply don’t know the laws governing bike use in our city. However, cyclists are one of the most vulnerable road users and are much more likely to be seriously hurt in an accident than occupants of a motor vehicle. And according to recent data released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the cyclist fatality rate is on the rise: between 2017 and 2018, the number of cyclist fatalities rose 6.3 percent. Furthermore, cyclist fatalities were the highest they had been since 1990.
Therefore, it’s imperative that cyclists understand their responsibilities and rights while riding — but it’s just as important that drivers gain a more complete understanding of how to interact with cyclists on the road. To help, we’ve compiled this list of the most important rules and guidelines for Austin cyclists and drivers.
Cyclists Must Obey the Same Traffic Laws as Motorists
For the most part, bicyclists must adhere to the same rules of the road as any other vehicle operator, including stopping at lights and stop signs, and yielding to vehicles that have the right of way. The only exceptions are when there are lanes or other road features designed exclusively for cyclists, or when instructed to do otherwise by police. Cyclists are also required to ride with traffic, not against it.
Motorists Must Use Caution when Passing Cyclists
Bicycles are allowed on most roads in Austin, and drivers sharing the road with cyclists must yield to bikes the way they would with any other vehicle. According to Austin Municipal Code, when driving on a road with two marked lanes traveling in the same direction, drivers who wish to pass cyclists must fully vacate their lane and pass in the lane next to them. If there isn’t another lane available, then the driver must at least give a safe distance to the rider when they pass.
Drivers must also avoid tailgating and unsafe passing when driving behind a cyclist. While not explicitly required, it’s a good idea to leave at least three feet of space between your vehicle and a cyclist in front of or beside you.
Motorists and Cyclists Are Not Allowed to Use Handheld Electronic Devices While Operating a Vehicle
It is exceptionally dangerous for any vehicle operator to use their phone or otherwise engage in distracting behaviors while driving or riding. The use of handheld cell phones or other electronic devices is prohibited for both drivers and bike riders in Austin.
Cyclists Must Stay to the Right of the Road — in Most Cases
In Texas, bicycle operators riding in the street at a speed slower than other vehicles on the road are required to ride as close as possible to the right curb, unless it is unsafe to do so. If the road is narrow or if there is a great deal of debris, uneven pavement, or parked cars or other vehicles on the side of the road that make it unsafe to ride on the right, it is legal for cyclists to use the middle of the road. Cyclists are also allowed to take up the whole lane when preparing to turn left or to pass another vehicle.
Motorists May Not Drive in Bike Lanes
Under Austin Municipal Code, it is illegal for vehicles to be operated in designated bike lanes, unless the driver must do so to leave a parking spot, driveway, or building. There is no law, however, forbidding parking a car in a bike lane, except where indicated by road signs.
It’s important to note that this is not an exhaustive list of rules and regulations for cyclists on the road. Additional rules and regulations can be found in the Texas Transportation Code and on the City of Austin’s website. You can also find answers to commonly asked questions about bicycle use on the Texas Department of Transporation’s bicycle and pedestrian FAQ page. The City of Austin also offers a map of available bike routes throughout the city.
If you have been injured in an accident while riding a bicycle — or have been involved in any type of road accident — our Austin accident lawyers are here to help. We can walk you through laws for cyclists and help you understand who may be at fault for your accident and what you should do about it. Contact us today for a free consultation with our expert bike accident lawyers.