I have been riding bicycles all of my life, and I have been an avid road bicyclist for about ten years. In addition to helping to keep your mind and body in shape, cycling provides you a keen awareness of the general rules of the road. While operating a motor vehicle you may be somewhat aware of the turning and stopping regulations, use of cell phone regulations, and crosswalk regulations, however, while operating a bicycle, awareness becomes a matter of life and death.
We often read and hear news reports about cycling accidents, many of which involve motor vehicles. Cyclists are often described as inattentive to the rules of the road. Regrettably, this is sometimes the case. However, while riding a bicycle along our public roadways, a cyclist sees motor vehicle operation from a different perspective. We can see into the cars that we pass, and we see the smart phones in people’s laps as the driver looks down to text or read. And we easily see the drivers holding phones up to their ears as they attempt to tuck them out of sight from the police. We see the drivers rolling through stop signs and turning right on red with barely a look in either direction. And we see the vehicles with distracted or ignorant drivers blowing through crosswalks while pedestrians are there.
Rules to Watch
Listed below are a number of important rules of the road for operators of motor vehicles and bicycles on public roads. I note first that Title 39 of the New Jersey Statutes Annotated (N.J.S.A.) includes the Motor Vehicle Law, as well as laws that govern roads in the State of New Jersey in general. Section 39:4-14.1 provides that “every person riding a bicycle upon a roadway shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle by Chapter 4 of Title 39 of the Revised Statutes and all supplements thereto except as to those provisions thereof which by their nature can have no application. Regulations applicable to bicycles shall apply wherever a bicycle is operated upon a highway or upon a path set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles subject to those exceptions stated herein.” Thus, bicyclists must adhere to the same rules of the road, and are entitled to the same protections, as motor vehicle drivers.
A motorist must stop and remain stopped for a pedestrian who is crossing at a marked crosswalk until the pedestrian completes his/her crossing, unless travelling along the half of the roadway on the other side of a safety island from the pedestrian. A motorist who fails to yield to pedestrians or who overtakes and passes vehicles that are stopped for pedestrians is subject to a $100.00 fine and up to fifteen days in jail (N.J.S.A. 39:4-36). Note that the Statute requires drivers to stop, not simply yield for pedestrians in marked crosswalks. There is some confusion about what a crosswalk is. Motor vehicle and safety regulations in the State identify roadway intersections as cross walks, whether they are marked or not. However, this section of the New Jersey Law states clearly that it is applicable to pedestrians in marked crosswalks. Failure by a motorist to stop and stay stopped for a pedestrian who is within a marked crosswalk may be subject to one or more of the following penalties: 2 points applied to your New Jersey Driver’s License; $200 fine (plus court fees); 15 days community service.
Turns On Red Signal
There appears to be some confusion in the general public about whether or not a turn on red is a voluntary or mandatory operation. N.J.S.A. 39-4-115(b) provides that a driver shall, not may, turn right on red provided that it could be done safely and there is no sign prohibiting such a turning movement.
Texting While Driving
This action is prohibited! Make no mistake about it. Texting while driving is like closing your eyes while driving. The public courts in New Jersey have recently ruled that the texting operator of a vehicle may be held liable for wrongful death or serious injury in an accident while texting, and the other texting participant may also be held liable if that participant is aware that they are texting with someone who is operating a motor vehicle. The Court concluded that a person sending text messages has a duty not to text someone who is driving if the texter knows, or has special reason to know, the recipient will view the text while driving.
Talking on a Handheld Device While Driving
This action is also prohibited! Just like texting. In August of 2013, Governor Chris Christie signed “Nikki’s Law” into effect. The law requires the erection of signs warning of the State’s texting and driving law. Additionally, significantly increased fines and penalties for violations will become effective in 2014, and the Legislators are considering further changes enabling police to look at a driver’s cell phone after an accident to see if the driver was texting at the time. Perhaps the imposition of points against a New Jersey Driver’s License would help to deter this dangerous conduct.
Last year, Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno signed into law a regulation that allows prosecutors to charge distracted drivers with vehicular homicide if they kill someone with an automobile. This new law adds illegal cellphone use – texting or talking on a phone that is not hands free, to the list of factors that can indicate reckless driving. A reckless driver who injures someone can be charged with assault by automobile which is punishable by up to 18 months imprisonment, a fine up to $10,000.00, or both. If a reckless driver kills someone, prosecutors can bring vehicular homicide charges. If found guilty, the reckless driver may be punished by imprisonment of 5-10 years, and a fine of up to $150,000.00, or both. Can you hear me now?
As a bicyclist, I ask you to please follow these laws, and tell everyone you know to do the same. Almost every near accident that I have been fortunate enough to avoid, has involved a motor vehicle operated by a driver completely distracted by talking on a handheld device or by texting.
Bicycles On Sidewalks
New Jersey State Law does not prohibit riding on the sidewalk, although some municipalities have passed ordinances that prohibit doing so. The New Jersey Department of Transportation warns cyclists that while riding on the sidewalk may not be illegal, it is not safe because sidewalks are mainly used by pedestrians.
Bicycles In Traffic
N.J.S.A. 39:4-14.2 requires every person operating a bicycle upon a roadway to ride as near to the right side of the road as practicable, exercising due care when passing a standing vehicle or one proceeding in the same direction. However, any person may move to the left; to make a left turn from a left turn lane or pocket; to avoid debris, drains, or other hazardous conditions that make it impracticable to ride at the right side of the road; to pass a slower moving vehicle; to occupy any available lane when travelling at the same speed as other traffic; to travel no more than two abreast when traffic is not impeded (in other words, cyclists cannot ride with more than two alongside each other).
Bicycle Lights And Audible Devices N.J.S.A. 39:4-10 provides that every bicycle when in use at night shall be equipped with a lamp on the front with a white light visible from a distance of at least 500′ to the front and a lamp on the rear with a red light visible from a distance of at least 500′ to the rear. Section 11 provides that no person shall operate a bicycle unless it is equipped with a bell or other device capable of giving a signal audible for a distance of at least 100′.
N.J.S.A. 39:4-10.1 provides that a person under 17 years of age shall not operate, or ride upon a bicycle as a passenger, unless that person is wearing a properly fitted and fastened bicycle helmet which meets certain published standards.
Some of the information described above in this article is common sense. Some is not well known and requires education and dissemination to the public as I am doing now. However, in all instances, there is clearly and absolutely no room for ignorance. That person in the crosswalk, or on that bicycle, may be you or a loved one. Think about it, please.