Rules of Road Sharing

We often hear from people that they’re uncomfortable driving around people walking and biking. A Pemco insurance poll in Washington state showed that 42 percent of people who drive are “somewhat uncomfortable” and 20 percent are “very uncomfortable.” The purpose of this Web page is to increase your comfort level around people walking and biking by:

  • Teaching you the laws and safety guidelines to keep people around your car safe
  • Helping you understand some common, legal bicyclist behaviors

See examples of safe driving around bicyclists

Learning how to drive safely around people biking will also help reduce your chances of collisions with people walking and other cars. This excellent video from the League of Illinois Bicyclists gives an overview of safe driving and cycling behavior. While it is specific to Illinois, most of the information also applies to Wisconsin.

You can prevent a crash by following these traffic laws:

Yield to People in Crosswalks

People in crosswalks (marked or unmarked) have the right of way at intersections without traffic control devices.  People driving cars or bikes must yield for, and stop if necessary, to let people in crosswalks cross the street.  Every corner with sidewalks creates a crosswalk, regardless of paint or other markings. We urge people to get active in making crossing the street easier by 1) yielding to people in crosswalks and 2) conduct a Stop for Your Neighbor Action.  You can request or print a free sign and help make your community safer. Check out this video to learn more.

Yield the right-of-way when turning left

Yielding the right-of-way to oncoming vehicles, including bicycles, before turning left at intersections and driveways (Note: Bicycles are often traveling faster then you expect, so you should yield even when you think you have time to get through before the bicyclist reaches you)

Wait for straight-moving traffic to pass before making a right turn

Do not cross in front of other traffic, including bicycles, to make a right turn. Signal your turn, check for traffic approaching on the right, and merge as far right as possible before turning. If there is a bike lane, you should merge into the bike lane before turning right after yielding to any people in the bike lane.

Allow three feet when passing

Leave at least three feet between you and people on bikes (or any vehicle) when passing, and pass on the left. Not sure what three feet looks like? Park your car and grab a friend, a bike and yardstick. While you sit in the driver’s seat of the parked car, your friend should stand astride the bicycle three feet to the right of the passenger mirror’s outside edge.

Stop and look

Stop for all traffic control devices (stop light/stop signs) at the stop line and yield to all traffic on the roadway, sidewalk, and crosswalks before proceeding Stopping to look for people on the sidewalk or biking or driving in the road  when exiting or entering a driveway. Lastly, look out the window to check for approaching traffic before opening your car door. “Dooring” - being hit by an opening car door - is a common cause of injury to bicyclists and can result in death by throwing a bicylist into traffic. According to Wisconsin state statute 346.94(20)(a), “no person may open any door of a motor vehicle located on a highway without first taking due precaution to ensure that his or her act will not interfere with the movement of traffic or endanger any other person or vehicle.”

Follow the Speed Limit.

Follow the speed limit so you can better see people walking and biking. In fact, it is not always appropriate to go as fast as the posted speed limit. Slow down if you have difficulty seeing the road ahead of you due to heavy rain, snow, sun glare, or sharp turns, or if slippery roads make steering difficult. In some situations, you may want to pull off the road altogether. Exercising this caution isn’t only good for people walking or biking. It also protects you and other drivers.  (This is equal-opportunity advice; we also urge bicyclists to pull off the road if they are unable to control their bike.)

Other helpful things to know:

  • Under Wisconsin law, bicycles are vehicles, and their operators have the same rights and responsibilities as motorists, according to Wisconsin state statute 346.02(4)(a).
  • Bicycles may legally be used on any road in Wisconsin except interstates, expressways and controlled access highways, according to Wisconsin state statute 346.16(2). The presence of a bike path, bike lane or sidewalk nearby does not result in a forfeiture of that right. A bicyclist may choose a road over a bike lane or path because road is the only or most direct route to their destination, or the bikeway is dangerous or impassable. It may be covered with snow or broken glass, have too many potholes to make it navigable, or be located too close to parked cars.
  • Bicyclists are supposed to ride as far to the right as practicable, which means safe and reasonable. There are many instances in which it is not safe or reasonable to ride on the far right, such as when there is debris in the road, the lane is narrow, or they are riding next to park cars. (Bicyclists are required to give parked cars at least three feet of space when passing them.) See Wisconsin state statute 346.80(2)(a) for more information on when bicyclists should not ride as far as possible to the right.
  • Riding on the sidewalk is prohibited in many Wisconsin jurisdictions. For example, in Milwaukee, people over the age of 12 are prohibited from riding on sidewalks. In Madison, people are prohibited from riding their bikes on any sidewalk that abuts a building.
  • Just because someone is on a bike does not mean that they are moving more slowly than you. Especially when traveling downhill, some cyclists can reach speeds of more than 40 miles per hour. It is unsafe and illegal to pass or turn in front of a bicyclist when they are traveling at or near your speed.
  • Be especially cautious around young bicyclists. Children have developmental and physical limitations that can make them unpredictable.
  • If you see a person operating a bicycle in a way that seems unsafe or illegal, do not use your car to “scare them straight.” DO get a description of the person in question and report their behavior to the police. If the person is from an identifiable group - for example, a club ride - contact the ride organizers and politely share your concerns with them. Refer them to the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin and our resources on bicycle safety and laws.

For more information

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation offers an excellent overview of the rules of the road on its website. It also offers an overview of bicycling-specific rules. For more detailed information, you can download a complete list of the statutes that comprise Wisconsin’s rules of the road.