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Traffic Negotiation Principles

The basic principles that all drivers of vehicles follow in order to prevent collisions are listed below *:

1. First come, first served. Each driver on the road is entitled to a "safety zone", i.e. the space their vehicle occupies, plus reasonable clearance behind and to each side, and reasonable stopping distance in front of them.  Other drivers who want to use this space must first yield to the driver already entitled to it. This principle applies both between intersections and at intersections. Yielding to traffic already on the road ahead requires driving slowly enough to stop if traffic just beyond view is slow or stopped, and not following too closely in case traffic ahead stops suddenly.

Cyclists operating on roadways usually travel slower than motorists, but motorists are expected to drive within their sight distance and not collide with slower traffic. Sober, competent motorists have no trouble avoiding such collisions. Cyclists are not expected to get out of the way of  motorists; cyclists are only expected to stay visible and behave predictably. Motorists should pass cyclists at safe distance: at least three feet at slow speeds; farther at higher speeds.

2. Drive on the right-hand side of the roadway.

Wrong-way cycling is a leading cause of car-bike crashes.

3. Yielding to crossing traffic. Drivers on less important roads, and that includes driveways and alleys, yield to traffic on more important roads. Yielding means looking and waiting until the movement can be made without violating the right of way of other highway users. Drivers turning left must also yield to thru traffic traveling in the opposite direction on the road. Traffic signals or signs often indicate which road has priority.

Most car-bike collisions occur at intersections, where either cyclists or motorists fail to yield when required to traffic crossing their path.

4. Yielding when moving laterally. Drivers who want to move laterally on the roadway must yield to traffic in their new line of travel. Yielding means looking behind, to the side, and in front and waiting until the movement can be made without violating the right of way of other highway users. 

Cyclists should travel reasonably  straight in order to allow other road users to pass safely. Yielding prior to lateral movement requires that a cyclist turn her head and look behind without swerving into other traffic.

5. Destination positioning at intersections. Drivers must approach intersections (including driveways) in the proper position based on their destination. Right turning-drivers make their turns from next to the curb, left turning drivers do so from near the center line, straight traffic goes between these positions.

Bicycle drivers communicate their intended destination through appropriate positioning; hand signals are not enough. Turning left without first approaching the center of the road invites conflicts with straight-traveling drivers who may attempt to pass on the left. Straight-traveling cyclists should avoid right-turn lanes and use the thru-lane instead.

6. Speed positioning between intersections. Drivers park on the rightmost edge of the highway. Drivers travel in a portion of the right side of the roadway that is wide enough for them to maneuver safely and is available for thru-traffic. Where safe and practical, slower drivers operate far enough to the right to allow faster drivers to see past them and perhaps pass when it is safe to do so. Drivers should overtake slower traffic on the left, not on the right. (There are exceptions when vehicles are turning left, on multi-lane roads, and on one-way roads).

In narrow lanes, drivers of wide vehicles must move into the adjacent lane to pass cyclists. In wide lanes, a motorist and a cyclist may have enough room to share a lane as the motorist passes. Cyclists should not ride too far right to operate safely for their speed.

Visibility and predictability are essential to safe driving. When cycling at night, always use a white headlamp and bright rear reflector, and perhaps a rear lamp, as required by law.

* These rules have been adapted from the Effective Cycling Road 1 Student Notebook published by the League of American Bicyclists.