By Douglas Shinkle
Share the Road?
This common plea to share space on the roadway only creates more confusion, potentially endangering bicyclists and frustrating motorists, according to recent research, some traffic safety advocates and the state of Delaware.
Typically, state law allows a rider the right to use an entire travel lane, although many states also have laws requiring bicyclists to ride as far to the right as is safe and practicable. This can create dangerous circumstances on narrow roads with no shoulders where bicyclists may ride in the traffic lane, while motorists may interpret “Share the Road” to mean a rider should move over, leading to unsafe passing and confrontations.
Recent research conducted by North Carolina State University found that “Share the Road” does not clearly communicate that bicyclists have the right to travel in the vehicle lane.
According to N.C. State, signage stating “Bicycles May Use Full Lane” most consistently communicated that “bicyclists are permitted in the travel lane and need not move to allow motorists to pass them within the lane.”
This message will likely have trouble finding acceptance with motorists depending on where the signs are employed, but perhaps indicates the beginning of a shift away from “Share the Road.” The Delaware department of transportation officially ceased to use the term in its road signs last November following a campaign by state advocates.
This puts the state clearly in the minority on this issue at the moment. As the organization Bike Delaware pointed out, “It’s the cycling 'message' on license plates in Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin.”
Time will tell how widespread this trend becomes, but this research indicating “Share the Road” adds no comprehension of the respective rights of bicyclists and motorists may further fuel debate at the state and local level.
Douglas Shinkle is a program principal in NCSL’s Transportation Program.