bicycle rider travels against trafficBicyclists must ride with the flow of traffic by law in Minnesota, as in most states. But debate persists as to whether this is truly the safest means of mingling bikes with cars and trucks. Visit a discussion forum for cyclists and you’re likely to find at least one thread with plenty of comments regarding whether bicyclists actually should face into traffic when they ride.

If you’ve been injured in a bicycle vs. car crash, it’s important to contact a personal injury lawyer experienced in handling these types of cases.

These debates can show up in local newspapers and on social media, usually after there’s been a fatal accident * or one resulting in serious injury that happened when the driver of a car hit a bicyclist while overtaking the cyclist.

Most safety experts and bicyclists agree that riding with the flow of traffic in a roadway – whether in special bike lanes or regular traffic lanes – is safer than facing into traffic, especially absent any special traffic rules, infrastructure, or traditions to support against-the-flow bike travel.

One study of bicycle/car collisions found that cyclists traveling against the direction of traffic flow are 3.6 to 6.6 times more likely to be in a crash with a car or truck.1 Authors of the study attributed the higher crash rate to the fact that motorists look for traffic traveling with the flow.

Experts point out the confusion that happens at controlled intersections for bike riders facing into motorized vehicle traffic, which may be required to stop for a traffic control device when there’s no stop sign or light that would apply to the cyclist. Bicyclists sometimes must use regular lanes of traffic, whether to turn left, move out of a turn-right-only lane, or avoid parked vehicles that are large or have open doors. If they are traveling against the direction of traffic flow, these moves can prove to be highly dangerous.

Specially marked bike lanes along the right edge of a roadway may seem a perfectly acceptable place to ride against traffic, but this, too, is fraught with problems. For example, a cyclist can hit a pedestrian who steps out to cross without looking for a bicycle coming from an unexpected direction. Second, headlights required for night biking shine into oncoming traffic from the driver’s right side, creating sometimes fatal confusion. Finally, other bicyclists may be traveling properly in the lane with the flow of traffic, and mayhem can ensue when two objects attempt to occupy the same space at the same time.

The arguments against bicycle travel facing into traffic also include the issue of closing speeds. Cars overtaking bicycles going the same direction will have a much lower closing speed than cars and bikes moving toward each other. Not only does “head-on” closing speed decrease reaction time for both cyclist and motorist, but it also increases impact speed if there is a collision.

While only 6% of all Minnesota bicycle/car crashes in 2016 and 2017 involved bicyclists riding against traffic, 90 out of 91 of those were injury accidents, according to the MN Department of Public Safety’s publication, “Minnesota Motor Vehicle Crash Facts.”

If you’re one of a quickly growing number of cyclists on the road today, follow the rules required by law. Ride with the traffic, not against it, even when there’s a bike lane on the opposite side of the road but not the side you’re riding on. Moving with traffic in ways motorists, pedestrians and other cyclists expect goes a long way toward keeping yourself safe when you cycle.

Our Rochester lawyers are ready to assist you if you have been harmed by someone else’s negligence. Contact us today.

Besides Rochester, we serve the following major southeast Minnesota cities: Red Wing, Winona, Mankato, Austin, Albert Lea, and Owatonna, and all outlying communities, as well as the cities of Minneapolis, St. Paul, Duluth, and Bloomington. We also serve the Iowa cities of Mason City, Charles City, Osage, Spencer, Garner, Forest City, and Northwood and the Wisconsin cities of La Crosse, Onalaska, Sparta, Viroqua, River Falls, Ellsworth, Whitehall, and Black River Falls.

*A note about language:

Federal agencies involved in traffic safety have banned use of the word “accident” for more than 20 years, and with good reason. However, we use the word “accident” on our website, even though we know it has implications that run contrary to our professional thinking and training, because we recognize that “accident” is the word most commonly used in online searches when people are looking for help after being injured in a crash. If you’d like more information about this topic, please see our blog, “Car Accident or Car Crash?”

1“Risk Factors for Bicycle-Motor Vehicle Collisions at Intersections” by Alan Wachtel and Diana Lewiston, originally published in ITE Journal, Sept. 1994, pages 30-35. http://www.bicyclinglife.com/Library/riskfactors.htm