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SHARE THE ROAD: What’s the deal with bicycles?

Here on the Tran Law Group Blog we’ve covered the basics of police reports post-accident , how social media can marginalize accident claims , and the pervasive problem these days all too often of driving while distracted; today let’s take a look in some depth at a couple of rules and regulations involved in alternate forms of transportation hopefully as an informative, preventative measure for safety for all those out there on the roads.

Summer is finally here in Houston and that means for some it’s time to take to the outdoors. This summer, more than ever, it seems a tremendous amount of people are looking to enjoy the wonderful leisure-time activity of biking both nationally and locally here in Houston. In recent years, Houston has seen a massive increase in the amount of people taking advantage of the Houston Bike Share program with memberships increasing 26% between 2017-2018 and an astounding 50% increase in 2019.

With increased bike presence on the roadways, comes increased risk with more common interactions between bikers, drivers, and all of us outside our houses.

Join us today at the Tran Law Group on boning up on some Texas bike laws. Whether you’re a bicyclist, automotive driver, or a pedestrian, safety is of the utmost importance to keep in mind during your transit; a big key to keeping it safe is knowing how to properly interact with others sharing the road and what regulations should be followed.

Even for the most practiced of us who choose the two-wheeled commute as a daily routine can stand a refresher sometimes; knowing the most possible about the rules of the road (and sometimes of the sidewalk) is the best way to protect yourself, your family, and others from injury as well criminal and civil liabilities.



EQUIPMENT

You can’t play football without a pigskin, barbecue without smoke, or fish without bait: “You’ve gotta bring the right tools to the party,” a wise man in Texas once said.

1. Helmet Laws

Currently, Texas indeed does not have a state helmet law. This means, generally, it is legal for all persons in the state regardless of age to actually operate a bicycle without the use of a helmet (but we still recommend one) unless otherwise provided by the municipal regulations in your city. However, Houston (along with Austin, Ft. Worth, and several other cities) have passed mandatory helmet laws for children under 18; meaning if you’re a minor and on a bicycle here you MUST wear a helmet—what’s more is that in Houston the law requires adults and anyone selling a bicycle to provision a minor with correct protective headgear.

2. General Bike Safety Equipment Laws

The minimal prerequisites for a bicycle to be legally ridden in Texas are relatively clearly stated in Texas Transportation Code Chapter 551 and include the logical necessity of both a mechanical brake and both front and rear lighting at night:

Sec. 551.104. SAFETY EQUIPMENT.

(a) A person may not operate a bicycle unless the bicycle is equipped with a brake capable of making a braked wheel skid on dry, level, clean pavement

(b) A person may not operate a bicycle at nighttime unless the bicycle is equipped with:

(1) a lamp on the front of the bicycle that emits a white light visible from a distance of at least 500 feet in front of the bicycle; and (2) on the rear of the bicycle (A) a red reflector that is: (i) of a type approved by the department; and (ii) visible when directly in front of lawful upper beams of motor vehicle headlamps from all distances from 50 to 300 feet to the rear of the bicycle; or (B) a lamp that emits a red light visible from a distance of 500 feet to the rear of the bicycle.

REGULATIONS FOR MOTORISTS AND OTHERS PROTECTING BICYCLISTS

For a lot of bike riders, one of the most scary things that can occur during a perfectly safe, legal ride is to be the victim of circumstance of someone else’s actions (often out of negligence or even maliciousness). In order to attempt to alleviate some of the situations and chances of occurrence for such things, the Texas Transportation Codes have been modified in recent years (and hopefully will continue to be in the future) to protect ALL people on the roadways.

1. Safe Passing Laws

There is no statewide law in Texas that sets any specific distance for a motor vehicle passing a bicycle on the road. The passing (or overtaking) of a bicycle by a motor vehicle is in fact solely governed by the general state traffic laws set in the Texas Transportation Code. Simply put, passing must be done to the left side and always at a safe distance.

Texas Transportation Code Sec. 545.053

Passing to the Left; Return; Being Passed

(a) An operator passing another vehicle: (1) shall pass to the left of the other vehicle at a safe distance; and (2) may not move back to the right side of the roadway until safely clear of the passed vehicle.

(b) An operator being passed by another vehicle: (1) shall, on audible signal, move or remain to the right in favor of the passing vehicle; and (2) may not accelerate until completely passed by the passing vehicle.



2. “Dooring” law

Texas Transportation Code requires no one opens a car door on the side of moving traffic, unless they ascertain doing so is safe and won’t interfere with the movement of traffic (including bicyclists). In simple terms, “Look before you open the door” is the best practice:

Texas Transportation Code Sec. 545.418 Opening Vehicle Doors

A person may not:

(1) open the door of a motor vehicle on the side available to moving traffic, unless the door may be opened in reasonable safety without interfering with the movement of other traffic; or

(2) leave a door on the side of a vehicle next to moving traffic open for longer than is necessary to load or unload a passenger.

3. Vulnerable Road User Laws

Unfortunately, Texas doesn’t have any statewide vulnerable road user laws at this time, but Houston (as well as Austin and a small amount of other cities) has passed their own ordinances, which ensure protection of bicyclists as vulnerable road users

Houston, Texas, Code of Ordinances, Chapter 45 – Traffic, Article XII Vulnerable Road User

(1) A pedestrian (including a runner), physically disabled person (including a person in a wheelchair), stranded motorist or passenger, highway construction or maintenance worker, tow truck operator, or utility worker in the roadway;

(2) A person on horseback or operating a horse-driven conveyance, in the roadway;

(3) A person operating a bicycle (including an electric bicycle), hand cycle, or other human-powered wheeled vehicle in the roadway; or

(4) A person operating a moped, motor-driven cycle, or motor-assisted scooter, as those terms are defined in sections 541.201 and 551.351 of the Texas Transportation Code, as applicable.

(b) Action required. An operator of a motor vehicle or motorcycle shall:


(1) When passing a vulnerable road user on a highway or street;

a. Vacate the lane in which the vulnerable road user is located if the highway or street has two or more marked lanes running in the same direction if such action can be taken safely; or

b. Pass the vulnerable road user at a safe distance; or

(2) When making a turn at an intersection (including an intersection with an alley or private road or driveway), yield the right-of-way to a vulnerable road user who is approaching from the opposite direction and is in the intersection, or is in such proximity to the intersection as to be an immediate hazard.

(c) Prohibited action. An occupant of a motor vehicle may not:


(1) Knowingly throw or project any object or substance at or against a vulnerable road user, or the user’s animal, equipment, vehicle or conveyance;


(2) Overtake a vulnerable road user traveling in the same direction and subsequently make a turn in front of the vulnerable road user unless the operator is safely clear of the vulnerable road user, taking into account the speed at which the vulnerable road user is traveling and the braking requirements of the motor vehicle making the right-hand turn; or


(3) Maneuver the vehicle in a manner that is intended to cause intimidation or harassment to a vulnerable road user or threatens a vulnerable road user.

4. Distracted Driving Laws

Texas state legislature has, in recent years, acknowledged the increasing problems that communications and technology present to cause new distractions to people while mobile. Subject to specific limitations and exceptions (of course), the Texas Transportation Code now states the following to curb distracted driving:


(1) a person under 18 years of age may not operate a motor vehicle while using a wireless communications device


(2) a person under 17 years of age who holds a restricted motorcycle license or moped license may not operate a motorcycle or moped while using a wireless communications device


(3) an operator may not use a wireless communication device while operating a passenger bus with a minor passenger on the bus unless the passenger bus is stopped; and


(4) an operator may not use a wireless communication device while operating a motor vehicle within a school crossing zone unless the vehicle is stopped; or the wireless communication device is used with a hands-free device.

GENERAL BIKE OPERATION GUIDELINES

A bicycle moves at a pace faster than a person walks, it also has wheels which allow reduced friction and more efficient transference of kinetic energy. When we add the mass of a bike and the person on it into the equation it becomes obvious that a person riding on a bike can cause greater damage or injury in everyday transference than someone simply walking. For this simple reason, as well as so many more (increased speed, limited reaction times and situational awareness due to focus on operation, etc), many statutes and laws have been issued as guidelines for safe operation. Below is a list of a couple of the most important to always keep in mind:

1. Treatment as a Vehicle

In Texas bicycles are vehicles; the Texas Transportation Code defines this as such to ensure that a bike rider indeed retains all of the rights and duties of a driver of any vehicle (except, of course, any special regulations specific to bicycles and any provisions that obviously have no bearing).

2. Where to Ride

For the most part, one is expected to ride their bike ON the road and on the RIGHT hand side.

Texas explicitly requires that a person operating a bicycle shall do so at a speed less than the speed of traffic and shall generally ride as near to the right curb or edge of the roadway as is possible.

There are a few exceptions to this general rule, as stated by law below:

Sec. 551.103. OPERATION ON ROADWAY.

(a) Except as provided by Subsection

(b) a person operating a bicycle on a roadway 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, unless:

(1) the person is passing another vehicle moving in the same direction;

(2) the person is preparing to turn left at an intersection or onto a private road or driveway;

(3) a condition on or of the roadway, including a fixed or moving object, parked or moving vehicle, pedestrian, animal, or surface hazard prevents the person from safely riding next to the right curb or edge of the roadway; or

(4) the person is operating a bicycle in an outside lane that is:

(A) less than 14 feet in width and does not have a designated bicycle lane adjacent to that lane; or (B) too narrow for a bicycle and a motor vehicle to safely travel side by side.

  1. A person operating a bicycle on a one-way roadway with two or more marked traffic lanes may ride as near as practicable to the left curb or edge of the roadway.

  2. Persons operating bicycles on a roadway may ride two abreast. Persons riding two abreast on a laned roadway shall ride in a single lane. Persons riding two abreast may not impede the normal and reasonable flow of traffic on the roadway. Persons may not ride more than two abreast unless they are riding on a part of a roadway set aside for the exclusive operation of bicycles.

  3. Fault of the Motorist or Bicyclist in a Crash that Affects Recovery

In an accident, the question of liability or fault purposes “Who was responsible for causing the accident and to what degree”. Different states treat this issue of fault differently depending on the amount of fault of the injured person. Texas follows a 51% modified comparative fault rule, which means that an injured party cannot recover if it is more than 50 percent at fault for causing the accident. However, the injured party can recover if it is 50 percent or less at fault, but that recovery would be reduced by its degree of fault. Therefore, it is critical that an injured party in Texas demonstrate that his or her fault, also known as proportionate responsibility, was 50% or less if they hope to recover from another party for injuries suffered.

3. Sidewalk Riding

There is no statewide statute in Texas prohibiting or allowing the operation of a bicycle upon a sidewalk. Sidewalk riding is prohibited by local ordinance in some areas including “Houston business districts” and especially downtown Houston



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