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Colorado Drivers: Share the Road with Bicycles!

May 9, 2023

It’s spring in Colorado! And what a long, cold winter it’s been. I am so eager to get out of my house and hang out outside. I’m not alone, either. From my personal injury office on 6th Avenue, I have seen a significant increase in the number of scooters, motorcycles, convertibles, and bicycles.

Just yesterday, I saw a near-miss accident between a car and a bicycle. It took my breath away. That biker was following the rules of the road, but the driver thought he could make a left-hand turn in front of her before she made it to the intersection.

So, I figured it’s a good time for me to write (again) about sharing the road with bicycles in Colorado. Over the past 25 years, I’ve helped Denver bicyclists who are injured, including tracking down a driver from a hit and run bicycle crash in Capitol Hill when the police couldn’t.

In the state of Colorado, bicycles are considered vehicles and have the same rights and responsibilities as other vehicles on the road. Additionally, bicyclists are considered vulnerable road users as they lack the protection that a car or truck provides. Therefore, it’s essential to keep an eye out for bicyclists to ensure their safety and the safety of all road users.

Rules for Sharing the Road with Bicycles in Colorado

Sharrow in Denver

Here are some of the laws and rules of the road for cars sharing the road with bicycles in Colorado:

  • Passing a Bicycle: When passing a bicyclist, drivers must leave at least 3 feet of space between their vehicle and the bicycle. If it’s not safe to pass with 3 feet of space, the driver must wait until it’s safe to do so. (Turning left in front of a bicyclist just before she reaches an intersection violates this rule.)
  • Yielding to Bicycles: Drivers must yield to bicycles when entering or crossing a bicycle lane or path. This means that drivers must look for bicyclists and give them the right-of-way before making a turn or entering a lane. (Again, the driver I witnessed on 6th Avenue clearly raced to beat the biker to the intersection and crossed in front of her path. I would have happily served as a witness for that biker had she been hit. Remember, someone is always watching your reckless driving behavior!)
  • Speed Limit: The speed limit for vehicles on roads where bicycles are present is 30 mph unless otherwise posted. Drivers must reduce their speed if necessary to avoid colliding with a bicyclist. As Denver expands its bike lane infrastructure, which I am all for, our speeds must accommodate these vulnerable road users.
  • Use of Bicycle Lanes: Bicycle lanes are designated for bicycles only. Drivers may not drive or park in a bicycle lane except when making a turn or entering a driveway or alley. There’s a bike lane near the grocery store where I shop and cars used to use it as a right turn lane, blocking bikers. Finally, the city installed those three-foot poles between the car and bike lanes so that bikers have protection.
  • Right-of-Way: Bicyclists have the same right-of-way as vehicles. Drivers must yield to bicycles when necessary, such as at intersections or when merging.
  • Turning with Bicycles: When turning right or left, drivers must merge into the bicycle lane when necessary to avoid colliding with a bicyclist. Drivers must also yield to bicyclists who are continuing straight through the intersection. Whenever I’m driving near a bicyclist or motorcyclist, I always defer to them and let them have the right of way. They are just too vulnerable for a “me-first” mentality.
  • Use of Horns: Drivers may not use their horn to intimidate or harass a bicyclist. However, they may use their horn to warn a bicyclist of their presence if necessary.
  • Safe Passing of Bicycles: Drivers must pass bicycles at a safe distance and at a reasonable speed. They must also wait until it’s safe to pass, especially if there is oncoming traffic or if they are approaching an intersection. (Again, that driver on 6th Avenue failed miserably at this rule.)
  • Sharing the Road: Drivers must share the road with bicycles and be aware of their presence. This includes giving them enough space and
    reducing speed if necessary. Yes, sometimes sharing the road with a bicyclist means that you have to slow down, sometimes to a crawl. But don’t become impatient and try to jockey around the biker while you’re in traffic. Just wait until you have enough space to pass the biker.

Safety is a Two-Way Street

Biking in Golden

Photo by Sean Xu / Shutterstock

It’s easy to paint car and truck drivers as the bad guys when it comes to sharing the road because the result of car-on-bike accidents are generally so tragic for the bikers, not the drivers.

However, I have seen some bicyclists behaving very badly, ignoring rules, purposely blocking traffic, and generally doing what I call “riding angry.”

It’s important for bicyclists to remember that they also have responsibilities when sharing the road with cars and trucks, including the following:

  • Equipment Requirements: Colorado law requires all bicycles ridden on public roadways to be equipped with certain safety equipment. Bicycles must have a front white light and a rear red reflector or light, which must be visible from at least 500 feet away.Bicycles must also have a functioning brake, which can stop the bike within 25 feet when traveling at a speed of 10 miles per hour on a dry, level surface.
  • Riding on Roadways: Bicyclists in Colorado are generally required to ride on the right side of the roadway, as close as is safely possible to the right-hand edge or curb. Bicyclists may ride in the left-hand lane of a one-way street or on a left-hand turn lane if they are preparing to turn left.Bicyclists are not required to ride on a sidewalk or a separated bike path, but may do so if it is safer than riding on the roadway. When riding on the roadway, bicyclists are required to follow the same traffic laws as motor vehicles.Bicyclists must obey traffic signals and signs, yield to pedestrians, and signal their turns using their arms.
  • Single file or side-by-side? Bicyclists may ride two abreast on the roadway, but must move to a single file if a vehicle approaches from the rear and the roadway is not wide enough for both the bicycle and the vehicle to travel safely side-by-side.

Penalties for Violating Colorado Bicycling Laws

Gavel in a courtroom for violating bicycle laws in Denver

Violations of Colorado’s bicycling laws can result in fines and penalties. Bicyclists who violate traffic laws can be issued citations by law enforcement officers, just like motorists. In addition, motorists who violate laws related to sharing the road with bicyclists can be subject to fines and points on their driver’s license.

In Colorado, drivers who violate bicycle safety laws can face various penalties, depending on the severity of the offense. Here are some examples of possible penalties for violating Colorado’s bicycle safety laws:

  • Failure to yield to a cyclist: If a driver fails to yield the right-of-way to a cyclist who is in a bicycle lane or crossing the road at an intersection, the driver can be fined up to $115.
  • Unsafe passing of a cyclist: If a driver passes a cyclist too closely, they can be fined up to $110. If the driver’s unsafe passing causes a collision, the fine can be increased to $1,000.
  • Dooring: If a driver opens their car door in the path of a cyclist, they can be fined up to $50.
  • Aggressive driving: If a driver drives in a manner that endangers a cyclist, they can be charged with reckless driving, which can result in a fine of up to $300, 90 days in jail, or both.
  • Hit-and-run: If a driver hits a cyclist and leaves the scene of the accident, they can be charged with a hit-and-run, which is a felony offense in Colorado. The penalties for hit-and-run can include fines, jail time, and the suspension of the driver’s license.

It’s worth noting that these penalties are not exhaustive and can vary depending on the circumstances of the offense.

Similarly, here are some common penalties for bicyclists who violate Colorado’s road safety laws:

  • Riding on the wrong side of the road: Bicyclists who ride on the wrong side of the road can be fined up to $50.
  • Failure to yield: Bicyclists who fail to yield to pedestrians or other vehicles can be fined up to $100.
  • Riding under the influence: Bicyclists who ride under the influence of drugs or alcohol can be fined up to $1,000 and face up to a year in jail.
  • Running red lights or stop signs: Bicyclists who run red lights or stop signs can be fined up to $100.
  • Riding without proper lighting: Bicyclists who ride at night without proper lighting can be fined up to $15.
  • Riding without a helmet: Although not strictly enforced, bicyclists are required to wear a helmet in Colorado. Failure to wear a helmet can result in a fine of up to $25.

Share the Road

Bike share in Denver

Bicycling is an increasingly popular form of transportation and recreation in Colorado. The state has developed laws to promote safety for bicyclists on the roadways. Bicyclists must follow equipment regulations, ride on roadways in a safe manner, and share the road with motor vehicles.

Motorists must exercise due care to avoid collisions with bicyclists and provide at least three feet of clearance when passing. Violations of these laws can result in fines and penalties, and in some cases, criminal charges.

By following the rules of the road and practicing patience and caution, we can all work together to prevent accidents and keep our roads safe.

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