Safe Driving Tips around Cyclists

Safe Driving Tips around Cyclists

Navigating the roads around cyclists can be nerve-racking, especially to a non-cyclist. Heck, even as a cyclist I get nervous driving around bike riders. Do they actually know the rules of the road? Will they swerve out in front of me? How fast are they really going? Is there enough room for me to pass them?

First of all, I want to make it clear that YOU, the motorists, are not the primary cause of all cycling crashes. In fact, 83% of cycling crashes do not involve a motor vehicle at all! Falls are the number one cause of bike crashes. According to the League of American Cyclists, “falls due to loss of control, flats, mechanical failure or hazards constitute 50% of all crashes, bike/bike crashes 17%, dog/bike crashes 8% and other crashes 8%.” That leaves about 17% of bike crashes that do involve a motor vehicle… and guess what?

50% of those crashes are caused by the cyclist, not the motorist. Cyclists riding on the wrong side of the road (facing traffic, not riding with it), making a left-hand turn across multiple lanes of traffic, failure to yield from a driveway, and running stop signs/signals account for a majority of the bike/motorist collisions in which the cyclist is at fault. That still, however, leaves 50% of the fault to motorists in bike/motorist crashes (or 8.5% of total bike crashes)… and these are the most deadly.

So, as motorists, what can WE do to chip away at the dangers caused to fellow Nashvillians on two wheels? This week’s Adventure Blog, in honor of the final week of #BikeMonth, covers 4 basic tips to help you do just that!


In Tennessee, motorists must provide three feet of space between their vehicle and the bike. The Jeff Roth and Brian Brown Bicycling Act of 2007 was passed shortly after the death of Jeff Roth, who was struck by a pickup truck why cycling along Rt 321 in Maryville, TN at the age of 48. The Jeff Roth Cycling Foundation exists, in his honor, to create awareness among motorists about cyclist safety.

3 feet plate

You may have seen the license plate, or recognize the logo from bumper stickers, but as a motorist, what does it mean? What does 3 feet actually look like when passing a cyclist? How fast can I go when passing? Will I get in trouble for crossing the double yellow line?


(image from

Three feet looks like a lot of space, but when you factor in the speed of a moving vehicle and the danger it poses, three feet doesn’t feel like so much room on the bike!

That being said, it’s important to understand that passing speed plays a much larger role than passing distance. Remember, fast moving vehicles create wind bursts, so when passing at a high speed you’ll need to offer more room to the cyclist than while passing at a low speed. Best practice is to always reduce speed and show patience (just as we would with a tractor, construction vehicle, roadway worker, or horse-drawn carriage).

Remember, 83% of all cycling crashes are caused by falls. If a cyclist falls while you’re passing them, you don’t want to be the one who runs them over!

Note: When passing a cyclist who is in a bike lane, motorists do not need to change lanes or alter their speed. However, motorists should be sure to position themselves in the center of their own lane.


Opening a car door into the path of a cyclist accounts for 7% of all bike/motorist collisions. When I went through certification as a Cycling Instructor through the League of American Cyclists, my course instructor pointed out that I was riding my bike too close to the parked vehicles. I was in the “Dooring Zone.” Later, when I was parking my car along a road with street parking, I caught myself opening my car door without checking for cyclists. Without a doubt, if one had been riding in the bike lane beside my car, a collision would have occurred.

As motorists, we can help to reduce these 7% of bike/motorists collisions by checking our side view mirror, then at first only partially opening the car door before fully opening it to exit the vehicle. This practice not only keeps us and our vehicles safe from collisions, it provides a signal to approaching cyclists that a door is about to open, and gives them the opportunity to react in time.


Crashes caused by a motorist making a right-hand turn in front of a cyclist account for 11% of all bike/motorist collisions. This typically happens when a motorist passes a bicyclist on the left, slows down to make a right-hand turn, and turns without checking to see where the cyclist is. The result is a head-on collision between the cyclist and motor vehicle passenger side.

It’s easy to misjudge the speed of a cyclist, and it’s easy to assume that any cyclist is riding slower than the speed limit, however it’s just not always the case. 8% of bike/motorist collisions are caused by “errors in overtaking” (passing), by both motorists and cyclists alike.

On several of my commutes into work I’ve been surprised to see the effort motorists take in order to pass me, despite the fact that I’m riding 32 mph downhill on a 35 mph road! As a motorist, any time you pass a cyclists on a road with multiple stop lights, it’s best to assume that they’ll catch up to you at the next light. So, look for them in your passenger side mirror before making any right-hand turns.


When exiting a neighborhood roadway, alleyway or driveway, motorists know first to look for approaching vehicles, then to look for approaching pedestrians. Now, more than ever, it’s important to also be on the lookout for approaching bicyclists, which will be less noticeable, especially if the cyclist is riding without lights. Also, as with the right-hand turn scenario above, remember that bikes going straight through an intersection in which you are turning left have the right of way (just as an oncoming vehicle would). After all, 13% of all bike/motorist collisions are caused by motorists making a left-hand turn into the path of a cyclist, resulting in a head on collision between the cyclist and the passenger side door, and 6% are caused by a motorist’s failure to yield from a driveway!

Left Cross crash

Also, be sure to look for bike riders both on the roadway and the sidewalk. Tennessee and Metro Nashville law specifies that bikes cannot be ridden on sidewalks in “business districts” but has no rule against riding on the sidewalks in non-business districts. There is also no rule on the direction in which bikes should ride along sidewalks. Loosely defined, a business district is the “commercial center” of a town. In Nashville, we have multiple business districts, including downtown Nashville, 12 South, the Gulch, West End, Green Hills and Germantown… basically anywhere you’ll find heavy pedestrian traffic.

So there you have it! These 4 basic tips can help to reduce bike/motorists collisions by nearly 40%! But there’s still more we can do to chip away at the 50% of crashes caused by cyclists. We can share some of the following simple reminders with our bike-riding friends, and encourage those friends to attend a free Walk/Bike University Class through Walk/Bike Nashville:

  1. Ride on the Right: Bikes should always ride in the same direction as traffic
    a. 14% of bike/motorist collisions are caused by cyclists riding in the wrong direction
  2. Be Visible: Bikes should have a working front light and rear red reflector (but preferably a red rear light) when it’s cloudy, raining, or dark
    a. 3% of bike/motorist collisions are caused by motorists not seeing the cyclist
    b. Best practice is to have working lights even in the daylight, to account for shaded areas
  3. Respect the Flow of Traffic: Cyclists may ride two-abreast (side-by-side) so long as they “are not impeding the normal flow of traffic,” at which point cyclists should move into single-file formation to allow vehicles to pass.
  4. Signal Your Intention: Cyclists are required to use hand signals when turning and changing lanes, just as motorists must use blinker signals.
  5. Obey Traffic Signals: Cyclists must come to a full stop at all stop signs and traffic signals, just as motorists should, and they must wait a “normal amount of time” at a sensor-controlled traffic signal for the signal to change. If it does not, the cyclist may assume the sensor did not detect them and they may proceed through the intersection when clear. This rule does not apply to timer-controlled traffic signals, or traffic signals in which parallel running traffic is present to activate the signals.
    a. 8% of bike/motorist collisions are caused by cyclists running a stop sign or traffic signal

Be safe out there everyone, and HAPPY BIKE MONTH!

-Keeley (Team Green’s Director)


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