October 29, 2006
Commentary By CHRISTOPHER M. VOSSLER
The increasingly popularity of bicycling across Connecticut has raised questions about cyclists' legal rights and responsibilities, as well as those of motorists toward cyclists. Place asked Hartford lawyer and cyclist Christopher M. Vossler to explain the law.
Cyclists have a right, under Connecticut law, to use the road. When riding on the road, a bicyclist's rights and responsibilities are much the same as those of a motorist. A cyclist must be watchful, make reasonable use of his or her senses, have reasonable control of the bike and ride at a reasonable speed.
Cyclists traveling on a sidewalk will generally have the same rights and responsibilities as pedestrians. However, towns have the legal authority to regulate or prohibit the use of bicycles on sidewalks.
Cyclists are required to keep as close to the right side of the road as possible when riding on a street or roadway. However, cyclists are not required to stay to the far right when making a left turn, overtaking vehicles driving in the same direction, overtaking and passing pedestrians or obstructions on the right side of the road, or when the right side of the road is closed.
Cyclists riding on the street may not ride more than two abreast, except on paths or parts of roads exclusively used for bicycles. Cyclists are not permitted to attach themselves to moving vehicles, carry a passenger, or carry packages that would prevent the cyclists from using both hands.
Regarding turning, Connecticut law requires cyclists to signal before making turns.
Before turning left, the cyclist is required to have hand and arm extended with the four fingers pointed. Similarly, right turns should be signaled, either by extending the left hand and arm with the hand pointed upwards or extending the right hand and arm with four fingers extended. None of these signals needs to be continuous.
Bicycles used on public roads must have the following equipment:
A light on the front of the bicycle visible from a distance of no less than 500 feet and reflecting tail light lens on the rear of the bicycle visible from a distance of no less than 600 feet when illuminated from the rear for riding at night, defined as a half-hour after sunset to a half-hour before sunrise, or during times of precipitation or low visibility.
Reflective material on each side of the bicycle visible from a distance of no less than 600 feet.
Brakes that will allow the bicycle to stop within 25 feet on dry, level pavement.
Finally, children under the age of 15 are not allowed to operate a bicycle on the highway or street without a helmet.
Motorists are obligated to treat bicycles with the same conduct they must afford other vehicles. Motorists can be fined for failing to yield the right of way to a bicycle.
A recent change in the law prohibits cars from overtaking a bicycle traveling in the same direction and "cutting off," or making an abrupt right turn in front of, the bicycle rider.
Basically, the right turn negotiated by the motor vehicle operator should not be made unless the turn can be made without impeding the travel of a cyclist who is traveling in the same direction.
In summary, cyclists should consider themselves to be operators of motor vehicles. They should always ride defensively, and recognize that they too must obey all traffic laws.
Attorney Christopher M. Vossler is a bicycle racer and an organizer of the Hartford Criterium. He lives in West Hartford.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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