The Law of the Land

You’ve probably had it happen before: you’re enjoying a nice ride when a car drives by with a passenger yelling at you about getting off the road—or something less friendly. It’s annoying and interrupts a pleasant ride, but at least it wasn’t this disastrous situation.

Whether it is to avoid getting a ticket, defending your rights, or simply staying in the good graces of drivers, it is a good idea to know the actual laws about cycling on the highways and byways. These laws vary in every state—even different cities—so it is important to know what the local ordinances say and learn the new ones when you move or train in a new region.

In Michigan, the League of Michigan Bicyclists provides helpful information, including their What Every Michigan Bicyclist Must Know guide, which provides a nice introduction to basic Michigan traffic laws. But nothing beats going straight to the source. It is now relatively easy to find the traffic code for each state online.

From the Michigan Vehicle Code, Act 300 of 1949, Section 257.657: Operation of Bicycles, Motorcycles and Toy Vehicles: “Each person riding a bicycle … upon a roadway has all of the rights and is subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle….” Keep that in mind, and you’ll get the sense of your rights and duties as a cyclist.

But there are some important details to consider. The portion of the Michigan Vehicle Code noted above includes 14 documents, many of which are only a sentence or two long, and are worth reading. Highlights include:
If you are interested more broadly in the topic of cyclists and the law, VeloNews’ column Legally Speaking—written by two-time Olympian and 1990 National Champion Bob Mionske, now an attorney focusing on bicycling—is a great resource to learn about issues involving cyclists and the law. His book, Bicycling & The Law, is another excellent resource.

While it is good to know your rights and responsibilities as a cyclist, it is also good to keep in mind that staying safe should be your main goal. And in order to do that, “Obey all stop signs and signals; motorists get upset when cyclists ignore traffic laws” (League of Michigan Bicyclists’ What Every Michigan Bicyclist Must Know). An upset motorist is never safe for a cyclist, whether it is you today or your friend tomorrow.