Rules of the road: Attorney addresses Minnesota laws related to bicycles

Spring has sprung, and people who have been cooped up all winter are taking to the streets and sidewalks to get some exercise and enjoy the beautiful weather for which Minnesota is famous.

Since my practice focuses exclusively on injury claims, I see, unfortunately, many cases involving injuries to pedestrians and bicyclists, especially during the summer months. This experience probably also makes me particularly aware of the numerous violations of Minnesota bike and pedestrian safety laws that I observe almost daily simply driving around the area. So, we thought it might be instructive, to provide a brief review of Minnesota laws applicable to motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians alike in the hope that knowledge of these safety laws might just help avoid a painful and costly injury.

Question: What laws and regulations apply to operators of bicycles and to vehicles encountering bicycles on public roads?

Answer: Bicycles are legal vehicles on Minnesota roads, but many people don’t know that they share the same rights and responsibilities as other vehicles. This means that every person operating a bicycle, regardless of age, must:

1) ride in the same direction as the flow of traffic and as closely as possible to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway;

2) observe all traffic control signs/signals, which includes stopping at all stop signs;

3) when riding with other cyclists, ride no more than 2 abreast and within a single lane;

4) use the same hand and arm signals as other drivers to indicate turns, and turn only at intersections or into private roads or driveways; turns must be signaled continuously during the last 100 feet traveled before turning and while the bicycle is stopped waiting to make a turn;

5) when driving on a sidewalk, yield the right-of-way to any pedestrian and give an audible signal before overtaking or passing a pedestrian; local authorities may prohibit operation of bicycles on sidewalks (Waconia prohibits riding of bicycles on sidewalks in the business district);

6) never carry another person on the bicycle except a) on a baby seat attached to the bicycle as long as the baby seat is equipped with a harness to hold the child securely and b) in a seat attached to the bicycle operator;

7) never cling or attach yourself to any other moving vehicle on the roadway;

8) never drive at night unless the bicycle is equipped with a white light visible from a distance of at least 500 feet to the front and a red reflector visible from all distances from 100 to 600 feet to the rear in front of low beam vehicle headlights.

These are just some of the more important laws applicable to operators of bicycles in Minnesota. Violation of these laws, whether by children or adults, can subject the operator to criminal penalties, or can become evidence of fault in the event of a civil claim arising from an accident resulting in injuries. For other bicycle rules and regulations consult your Minnesota Driver’s Manual.

Motorists are also subject to laws regulating their driving conduct when sharing the road with bicycles. For example:

1) the operator of a motor vehicle overtaking a bicycle proceeding in the same direction shall leave a safe distance, but in no case less than three feet clearance, and shall maintain clearance until safely past the bicycle;

2) When turning, a motorist must yield the right-of-way to approaching bicycles;

3) It is illegal to drive in a designated bicycle lane except to enter or leave the road or to prepare for a turn, always yielding the right-of-way to bicycles using the lane.

A quick word about motorized foot scooters, which have become quite popular in recent years. Generally speaking, operators of motorized foot scooters have all of the same rights and duties applicable to bicycle operators, with a few notable exceptions:

1) no person may operate a motorized foot scooter on a sidewalk, unless when necessary to enter or leave adjacent property;

2) no person may operate a motorized foot scooter that is carrying any person other than the operator;

3) no person under 12 years of age may operate a motorized foot scooter under any circumstance;

4) no person under the age of 18 years may operate a motorized foot scooter without wearing head gear that complies with standards established by the Commissioner of Public Safety.

While not required by law, all bicycle operators are encouraged to wear helmets.

Finally, on a related note, since summer also greatly increases the number of walkers and joggers using our streets and highways, a word about pedestrian safety is also in order. Did you know that:

1) Pedestrians (and joggers) must, if possible, walk or run on the left side of the roadway or shoulder, always against oncoming traffic.

2) Pedestrians should always cross a roadway at a marked crosswalk, if one is available. At an intersection with or without a marked crosswalk, a motorist must yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway and must remain stopped until the pedestrian has cleared the lane in which the vehicle is stopped. No pedestrian is allowed to suddenly leave the curb if a vehicle is approaching so close that it is impossible for the driver to yield. It is unlawful for a motorist approaching from the rear of a vehicle stopped for a pedestrian to overtake and pass the stopped vehicle.

3) Pedestrians crossing a roadway at any point other than at a marked crosswalk or at an intersection with no marked crosswalk must yield the right-of-way to all vehicles.

4) Where sidewalks are provided and accessible, it is unlawful for any pedestrian (or jogger) to walk, run, or operate a wheelchair on an adjacent roadway.

5) A person operating an electric personal assistive mobility device is subject to the same rights and responsibilities as a pedestrian.

Unfortunately, many children and adults alike are seriously injured or killed every year on our roadways. Most of these accidents are the result of a violation of one or more of the laws discussed above. We should all take the time to sit down with our children and review the rules with them and insist that they be focused at all times for their own safety. Be careful out there!

Keith Sjodin is with the litigation department at Melchert Hubert Sjodin, PLLP.