Are bicyclists required to ride as far to the right as possible on the road, or is it ever all right to ride in the middle of a lane of traffic?
Riding your bicycle in the middle of the lane is known as “taking the lane.” It is a practice that is perfectly legal to do under certain circumstances, and may be necessary at certain times to prevent a D.C. bike accident from happening.
Most states have laws that say that riders should stay as far to the right as possible when riding with traffic. The stipulation to this law is that riding must do so whenever it is practical. However, there are some instances when riding to the far right may actually be more risky than riding in the middle of the lane. When this is the case, riders should exercise their best judgment and caution to prevent an accident from occurring.
Taking the lane may be most practical when:
- There are parked cars lining the far right side of the road. Drivers in parked cars could suddenly open their doors into the path of an oncoming cyclist. Parked cars can limit visibility for drivers turning onto busy city streets from alleyways, driveways, parking lots, or side streets. These drivers are most commonly looking to the middle of the lane to determine a safe time to turn.
- Cars are traveling too closely to cyclists, attempting to pass by without changing lanes. This can be very dangerous, causing motorists to “clip” or sideswipe bicyclists along the right side of the road. Whenever bikes and cars collide, the bike rider most frequently ends up on the losing end.
- Riding close to the shoulder isn’t safe. On many Washington, D.C., streets the shoulder of the road butts up directly to a raised sidewalk or curb. Hugging the curb can be very risky, and bikes with thin, narrow tires that inadvertently hit a curb could cause a rider to go flying over the handlebars.