“Share The Road” actually STINKS as a marketing & legal concept… in fact, it’s not “legal” at all…
Usually diamond-shaped and yellow, these “warning signs” caution drivers that the road is slippery when wet; there is an intersection ahead, the lanes narrow, or there may be bicyclists, farm animals, or wildlife on or near the roadway. Somehow cyclists are supposed to be comforted by the notion that Big Brother is “protecting” us by putting out a “warning” that we are nearby – as though we are a hazard to motorists, like deer leaping from the woods or kids darting out after a ball.
They might as well put up “Bikes Might Be In Your Way” signs…
This entire line of thought has always baffled me, frankly, because it implies, to me, that the government believes that motorists OWN the lane and must be told, or really just asked, to “share” a bit of it with cyclists. I’m surprised it doesn’t say “Share the Road… PLEASE?”
I wrote this piece in 2010 – and nothing has changed in the interim to cause me to update, change or modify my view that “Share The Road” STINKS” – both as a legal concept and as State-Approved verbiage on a big yellow traffic WARNING sign.
From the MUTCD comes this language about Warning Signs:
“Warning signs call attention to unexpected conditions on or adjacent to a highway or street and to situations that might not be readily apparent to road users. Warning signs alert road users to conditions that might call for a reduction of speed or an action in the interest of safety and efficient traffic operations. ”
Is a bicycle on the road an “unexpected condition?” Is a bicycle on the road something that is “not readily apparent” to road users? Does the STR sign call for a possible “reduction of speed” or an action by a motorist “in the interest of safety?” Who is being asked to “Share?” And, more importantly, what is it, exactly, that is to be shared?
“Share the Road,” to me, is absolutely obsolete, antiquated verbiage that arose during some era when bicycles were viewed as toys and bicycle operators were not treated, or taken seriously, as lawful vehicle operators driving around with a “right of way” superior to those coming up from behind in cars, trucks and busses. This language comes from an era which didn’t want to recognize that the cyclist, the vehicle operator, was entitled to exactly the same respect and rights as every other vehicle operator. “Share The Road” has NO place in today’s transportation lexicon and certainly no place in today’s LEGAL analysis of right of way.
“Sharing” is not a concept mandated by or contained in the traffic law of any state. “Sharing” is a nice, altruistic concept that relies upon the goodwill of the Share-or to give up a little bit of that which she/he owns to the Share-ee. No law says that the motorist owns the road and the cyclist may borrow it sometimes, IF the motorist feels like sharing. Yet, motorists frequently act like my two year old son did almost 20 years ago when he was asked to “share” – instead of displaying his altruistic tendencies, he tightened his grip on the “toy-to-be-shared,” got in the face of the proposed “Share-ee” and loudly proclaimed, “MINE!”
Indeed, if the law said you ought to “share” the space, a motorist might legitimately claim ownership of the road and say, “MINE!”
But this is not the law.
Rather, the law is that a PERSON wishing to use the public roads has the right to CHOOSE the vehicle on, or in, which to travel. A bicycle and a car and a truck and a bus and an Amish buggy and a large piece of farm equipment are equally valid, legitimate and lawful choices as vehicles under the laws of virtually every state.
This is the Critical Point here —>When it comes to the right to be on the roadway, and the right to move ahead in a straight line, a person who chooses to ride a bicycle on the roadway has exactly and precisely the same bundle of rights as one who chooses to operate a car.
RIGHT TO TRAVEL – RIGHT TO USE THE ROADS
Remember this –> The rights associated with operating a vehicle belong to the person, not the vehicle. The RIGHT is the RIGHT TO TRAVEL on the public ways. You do NOT get Bigger Rights if you choose a bigger vehicle…
THE RIGHT TO TRAVEL
In 1215, in merry old England, the Magna Carta enshrined the “right to travel” stating:
“It shall be lawful to any person, for the future, to go out of our kingdom, and to return, safely and securely, by land or by water, saving his allegiance to us, unless it be in time of war, for some short space, for the common good of the kingdom: excepting prisoners and outlaws, according to the laws of the land, and of the people of the nation at war against us, and Merchants who shall be treated as it is said above.”
The “right to travel” has been recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court in U.S. vs. Guest which held citizens maintain “… the constitutional right to travel freely from State to State and to use highways and other instrumentalities for that purpose…”
In Packard v. Banton, the Supreme Court said, “The streets belong to the public and are primarily for the use of the public in the ordinary way.”
In Kent v. Dulles, the Court said, “…The Right to travel is part of the Liberty of which the citizen cannot be deprived without due process of law ...”
In Ohio, “…the right to intrastate travel is a fundamental right held by each citizen and cannot be deprived without the due process of law. State v. Burnett (2001), 93 Ohio St.3d 419, 428, 2001 Ohio 1581, 755 N.E.2d 857…”
The Virginia court said, in Thompson v. Smith: “The right of the Citizen to travel upon the public highways …. includes the right, in so doing, to use the ordinary and usual conveyances of the day, and under the existing modes of travel….” In this case the tension on the roads was between cars and the horse/buggy configuration but the court’s use of the phrase “ordinary and usual conveyances of the day” is certainly broad and bicycles, having been around longer than cars, certainly fit the bill!
With regard to the right to travel and move about the country, a Mississippi court held in Teche Lines Inc. v. Danforth, held as follows:
“…The right of a citizen to travel on public highway is a common right which he has under his right to enjoy “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness,” and the right to “travel,” which means the right to go from one place to another, includes the right to start, to go forward on the way, and to stop when the traveler’s destination has been reached, and also the right to stop on the way, temporarily, for a legitimate or necessary purpose when that purpose is an immediate incident to travel…”
Of course, good quotes cannot just be strung together to make a real legal argument in a real court case, and none of these cases are “bike cases.” No court has held that there is “constitutional” right to operate a bicycle on the roads.
However, it seems very clear to me that virtually every court in the country would be forced to agree that you have a fundamental right to use the public ways, the roads, to move about the country. So long as your vehicle choice is one permitted by state law and you obey the traffic laws, you have the right to use most public roadways for bicycle travel. In Ohio, and in every state, citizens have the right to choose to use a bicycle and operate that bicycle on just about every public street in the country.
RIGHT OF WAY LAW
So the PERSON, the “citizen,” not the vehicle, possesses this “right to travel.” But, once you’ve walked into your garage, looked at your car, your truck, your motorcycle and your bike and chosen to head out on the public way on your BIKE, what “rights” do you have while operating your bicycle? What duties and responsibilities do you have? Most states say you have the SAME bundle of rights as the operator of other vehicles, and the same responsibilities. In fact, a common mantra among bicycle advocates is Same Roads, Same Rights, Same Rules!
As noted above, you don’t get bigger rights because you choose a bigger vehicle and you don’t get shafted by being granted lesser rights for choosing a smaller, lighter-weight, economical, “green” bicycle! Humvee drivers have the same bundle of rights as pickup truck drivers and Beetle drivers and motorcycle drivers and semi-drivers and bus drivers and Amish buggy drivers and bicycle drivers…
In general, the person driving “lawfully” at the front of the pack of “traffic” typically has the “right of way.” The rights of the operators of the vehicles operated behind, or passing, the leader are subservient to the one with the right of way. This “right of way” is a very powerful collection of rights which should not be given up, or “shared,” by the cyclist.
In Ohio, for example, the “right of way” is defined in O.R.C. 4511.01:
(UU) “Right-of-way” means * * * :
(1) The right of a vehicle, streetcar, trackless trolley, or pedestrian to proceed uninterruptedly in a lawful manner in the direction in which it or the individual is moving in preference to another vehicle, streetcar, trackless trolley, or pedestrian approaching from a different direction into its or the individual’s path;
Note – the word “share” is not in the law.
There is no crying in baseball, and there is no “sharing” in the right of way law. So, really, this concept of “sharing the road” has absolutely no business being in the transportation lexicon. Advising a motorist who is coming up on a bicyclist from behind to “Share The Road” with the cyclist riding in the lane ahead is fundamentally and legally WRONG. You either HAVE the right of way or you don’t.
The cyclist riding ahead of the car owns the right of way and does not have to share… in fact the cyclist shouldn’t “share.” Once the cyclist gets into a “sharing” mentality, the cyclist has lost the battle. You HAVE a “right” – the right of way – which is actually a very powerful collection of rights. However, you have to ASSERT that right – use it or lose it. The fact that you have a right means nothing if you don’t USE it.
One instance when “sharing” may seem to come into play is in the Dance of the Passing Maneuver. However, even during this dance there is always someone with the right of way and someone whose “right of way” is subservient. The “Passer” is behind the “Passee” and wants to pass. The Passer initiates the dance – signals the intent to pass – moves left and begins to pass.
At some point during the Dance of the Passing Maneuver, the the Right of Way baton passes from the Passee to the Passer. The Passee then has the duty to allow the Pass to be consummated. Passing laws generally prohibit “drag racing” and mandate the vehicle ahead has to “give way” to the passing vehicle at some point. This is not “sharing” at all. The Passer has legal duties she/he has to meet in order to be allowed to make a legal pass.
How close to the bicycle can the passing vehicle be? Under Ohio law as it currently sits the pass must be completed at a “safe distance.” Most cyclists believe that, to law enforcement, this means “No Blood No Foul.” Even when there IS “blood” there is often still “No Foul.”
Here’s an actual sketch of a nasty crash from a case I handled. A landscaping contractor in an SUV was pulling a large, homemade trailer on a narrow 2 lane road. As he passed the cyclist, he clipped the cyclist with the trailer, causing a crash leading to catastrophic injuries.
Police officers were actually sitting on the side of the road ahead the SUV and bicycle – they were facing the oncoming car and bicycle as the officers had pulled over another driver. The result? NO “unlawful passing” ticket was issued despite the ridiculous close pass which led to some horrible injuries for our client.
During his deposition the motorist actually denied hitting the rider. However, we found a deep gouge on the rim of the bicycle which lined up nicely with part of the tail light attached to, and sticking out from the back of, the homemade landscaping trailer pulled by the motorist… we had to file suit due to the insurer’s initial denial of the claim, but came away with an outstanding settlement in the end…
Remember, the cyclist ahead of the motorist has the right of way – the right to proceed forward in an uninterrupted manner – a right of way that is SUPERIOR to the right of the passing vehicle. The operator with the right of way, as the preferred vehicle, has rights that are GREATER than other vehicle operators.
The big problem with “Share The Road” signs is that nobody knows what they mean.
A “Share The Road” sign may give the motorist behind the cyclist the wrong message – the mostorist may think that she/he can choose to share… or not… The implication of STR signs is that the bigger car has bigger rights that supercedes the right of the cyclist and that the operator of the bigger vehicle can CHOOSE to share… or not.
STR signs may also give the motorist the wrong impression that the LANE can be “Shared” with the bicycle – i.e., that they can co-exist side by side in the same lane. STR signs discourage motorists from leaving the lane to pass and tend to allow the motorist to think it is OK to try to “thread the needle” and pass the cyclist as close as possible without going over the lane line to the left.
Worse, STR signs may cause the motorist to believe that the sign is aimed at the cyclist – telling the cyclist to “share the road” with bigger, faster vehicles – telling the cyclist to GET OUT OF THE WAY. The motorist may be encouraged by the sign to view the cyclist as one who has actually SNATCHED HIS RIGHT TO DRIVE HIS CAR down the road… which ticks off the motorist, who may not WANT to “share” his roadway with any namby pamby MAMIL… [MAMIL = Middle Aged Man In Lyrca]
The Right of Way is valuable – it’s important – and it’s something cyclists should not be asked by the state to SHARE.
Maybe we need a new sign …
74 Comments »
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