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Bicyclist Safety and Law Enforcement

Educating police about traffic enforcement for bicyclist safety and mobility

a program of North Carolina Active Transportation Alliance (NCATA)

Law enforcement plays an essential role in supporting bicycle travel by reducing unsafe operation of motor vehicles and bicycles and by reminding the public about the legal rights and duties of road users. A police force that is more knowledgeable than the general public about best bicycling practices is more confident when dealing with bicycling issues, improves the environment for bicycling, and ultimately reduces bicyclist crash rates. Police who are uninformed, however, sometimes improperly stop bicyclists who are operating lawfully and safely. Police training programs that explain effective traffic law enforcement practices for bicyclist safety should be included in any community’s strategy for improving bicycling.

As bicycle traffic volumes have increased, police have been asked to become more involved in bicycling-related enforcement issues, but most police have not been trained on best bicycling practices and related law. NCATA is aware of numerous cases of police officers in North Carolina stopping and/or ticketing bicyclists who were operating lawfully on roadways. Many traffic enforcement officers ignore violations associated with common bicyclist crashes, including wrong-way bicycling, bicycling at night without lights, and failure to yield. When police are uninformed about best bicycling practices and the law, they may spread misinformation to the motoring and bicycling public, which in turn results in increased harassment and endangerment of lawfully operating bicyclists and reduced visibility and predictability of bicycle operation.

In response to these concerns, bicyclists in North Carolina worked with local police to develop a custom training program to empower officers with accurate information about how NC traffic law applies to bicyclists and with strategies to effectively use law enforcement to promote bicyclists safety.  Modeled after similar programs in other cities and states, the Bicyclist Safety and Law Enforcement program includes the following components:

  1. A detailed presentation of how the traffic law defines the rights and duties of bicyclists and other drivers on roadways, and how this relates to safety
  2. A list of priority violations by bicyclists (cycling at night without lights, wrong-way cycling, failure to yield at junctions, and unsafe operation on sidewalks)
  3. A list of priority violations by motorists (drunk/distracted driving, failure to yield at junctions, improper right turn, driving too fast for conditions, unsafe passing)
  4. Discussion of effective methods for dealing with bicyclists and motorists during bicycling-related traffic stops
  5. Analysis of common causes of local bicycle crashes based on local police reports. Such crash data provides a compelling justification for the existing rules of the road and the prioritization of traffic violations.
  6. Discussion of bicycle-specific facilities such as shared lane markings and bike lanes.

This program is currently being adapted for use by other cities in North Carolina. The program has received high praise by both police and bicyclist advocates and can provide a model for police education around the country.

Program developed for NCATA

For more information, contact:

Steven Goodridge

steven_goodridge@bellsouth.net

919-244-4345