Many people enjoy using bicycles as both a mode of transportation and a form of exercise. Thanks to the installation of bike paths and lanes throughout Louisiana in recent years, it has become even more of a valid option for the 4.66 million people who call Louisiana home. In order to help prevent bicycle accidents and keep bicyclists as well as pedestrians, and motorists safe, it is important to know and understand Louisiana’s laws pertaining to bicyclists.
In general, bicyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as those driving motorized vehicles, including the responsibility to follow all traffic rules and regulations and the prohibition of driving under the influence. While bicyclists are required to adhere to the same traffic laws of that of vehicle drivers, there are also several laws pertaining specifically to bicyclists in Louisiana. One of the most significant differences between bicyclists and motorists is that bicyclists are permitted to ride on the shoulder of a road whereas those driving vehicles are prohibited from doing so.
Let’s take a closer look at Louisiana laws pertaining to bicyclists:
Wear a Helmet
Louisiana state law requires all people under the age of 12 years old to wear a helmet while riding or being a passenger of a bicycle.
Stay to the Right
Bicyclists should ride as close as possible to the right side of the road, with the exception of a few specific circumstances. You need not adhere to this law when passing another bicycle and/or vehicle, when making a left-hand turn, and when you must move left due to unsafe conditions on the roadway, including potholes or a construction zone.
Know the Signals
Bicyclists should ensure full knowledge of proper hand signals to be used when alerting traffic of a turn or when slowing down and/or stopping to reduce the risk of accidents. For example, when turning left, you should extend your left arm out to your side with your palm facing backward and when turning right, extend your right arm in the same manner, again, with your palm facing backward. When preparing to slow down and/or stop, extend your hand toward the ground at a 45-degree angle with your palm facing forward.
Check Your Brakes
It is important that cyclists perform regular safety checks on their bicycles. It may even be beneficial to take your bicycle to a bike shop to ensure it adheres to even the strictest inspections. One safety protocol which Louisiana state law specifically requires for bicyclists is that the brakes on your bicycle are able to cause the bike to skid across dry, clean pavement.
Ensure You are Seen
When riding your bicycle in poor weather conditions and/or when visibility is less than ideal, you should take reasonable measures to make sure other people, including pedestrians, motorists, and other cyclists, are able to see you. This can be achieved in a variety of ways, including mounting a lamp which emits a white light beam of 500 feet on both the front and back of the bicycle and placing reflectors on the back and both sides of the bike, which allows others to see you for up to 600 feet.
Protect your Children
Children weighing less than 40 pounds or measuring under 40 inches tall must be strapped into a restraining seat when passengers on a bicycle.
Stay off the Highways
Bicyclists are not permitted to ride on the interstate in Louisiana. Instead, make sure to stick to back roads, bike paths, and town streets to ensure your own safety, as well as that of others.
Stick to Riding Two-by-Two
Bicyclists may not ride more than two abreast except on bicycle-only pathways. Make sure to leave enough room for other cyclists and pedestrians by traveling single file or, at most two-by-two, rather than in a large group clumped together.
There are also several laws pertaining to the conduct of motorists in relation to bicyclist, including how to safely pass bicyclists and the requirements for staying out of the bicycle lane (with the exception of a few very specific circumstances).
Pass Bicyclists Safely
When passing a bicyclist, motorists must take caution as they do so, leaving a safe distance of at least three feet between the cyclist and the vehicle. Louisiana state law does allow motorists to pass bicyclists in a no-pass zone, but only when it is safe to do so.
Stay Out of the Bicycle Lane
Vehicles must refrain from using bicycle lanes with the exception of preparing to turn within 200 feet of the intersection or to enter or exit the street. If vehicles do enter the bike lane for one of these reasons, the driver must yield to bicyclists, who still possess the right of way.
Motorists, pedestrians, and other bicyclists are prohibited from acting in a way toward bicyclists which may be considered harassment. This includes yelling, taunting, and throwing objects in the direction of a cyclist.
While most of these laws may seem to be common sense, they are important to know, understand, and adhere to. In 2016, there were over 800 bicyclists killed in motor vehicle traffic accidents in the United States, which accounted for over 2% of all motor vehicle traffic deaths. Advocacy groups have long been pushing for increased safety measures for cyclists, which may have contributed to the decrease in the number of bike traffic accidents. However, the number of bicyclists on the road is ever-increasing, which also increases the likelihood of accidents, and we must continue to prioritize their safety.
In regions like New Orleans, the rise in bicycle accidents is particularly concerning. Recent statistics from Orleans highlight the urgency of addressing this issue. Determining who is at fault in these accidents is crucial for both cyclists and drivers. It’s not just bicycle-related incidents that are a concern; work-related accidents and mishaps during the holiday season also see significant numbers. Awareness and adherence to safety guidelines across all these areas can make a significant difference.
Whether you are a cyclist, pedestrian, or the driver of a vehicle, it is imperative that you know and understand these bicycle laws in order to protect the safety of all Louisiana residents.
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