The Common Law

Cycle Utopia – Can Cyclists Do That?

I drive to work on a street that gets lots of bicycle traffic. Some cyclists drive me nuts because they take up an entire lane of traffic. Other times they weave through cars and run red lights and stop signs. Are they breaking the law?

Probably not and yes. Whether it's the beautiful weather, Hill Country scenery, desire to travel in an environmentally sensitive matter, or the Lance Armstrong effect, cycling, both recreational and for sport, is popular in Austin. This does not mean, however, that Austin has evolved into a cyclist utopia where cars and bikes always coexist peacefully. Bikers feel threatened by cars that do not respect their road presence, and automobile drivers often get frustrated by what they perceive as improper road behavior by cyclists. This column is designed to shed some light on how Texas law addresses the basic road relationship between cars and bicycles.

Texas law requires that a cyclist who is moving slower than the other traffic on the roadway shall ride as near as practicable to the right curb or edge of the roadway. Many cyclists feel that cars flying by in the same lane are dangerous and, therefore, think it's more "practicable" to use the entire lane in order to protect the cyclist's safety (www.bicycleaustin.info/laws). It is uncertain whether that holds up as a defense to being ticketed for riding in the middle of a lane, but on its face it appears like a legitimate argument. Exceptions to the general rule requiring cyclists to ride "as near as practicable" to the right curb include the following: to pass another vehicle moving in the same direction, making left turns, or a specific roadway condition (parked car, pedestrian, etc.) that prevents the person from safely riding next to the right curb.

Cyclists should not weave through cars or run red lights and stop signs. Under Texas law, a person who operates a bicycle has the same rights and duties applicable to an automobile driver. In short, this means that a cyclist breaks the law by failing to follow basic rules of the road.

Finding a way to have cars and bicycles share the road in a safe manner will continue to be a challenge as Central Texas grows. Read next week's "Common Law" column for information on other laws related to riding a bike in Central Texas.

Please submit column suggestions, questions, and comments to thecommonlaw@austinchronicle.com. Submission of potential topics does not create an attorney-client relationship, and any information submitted is subject to being included in future columns.

Marrs, Ellis & Hodge LLP, www.jmehlaw.com.

The material in this column is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute, nor is it a substitute for, legal advice. For advice on your specific facts and circumstances, consult a licensed attorney. You may wish to contact the Lawyer Referral Service of Central Texas, a non-profit public service of the Austin Bar Association, at 512-472-8303 or www.austinlrs.com.

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