Do You Know Your Rights as a Cyclist in Chicago?
Staying safe on the road as a cyclist comes down to two critical factors: obey the rules of the road, and know your rights as a cyclist. Many motorists are unaware of the legal requirements for how to behave around cyclists on the road, and you are allowed to report them if they break the law. The more you know about the legal rules of the road, the better you can protect yourself as a cyclist.
Right of way
In Chicago, the bicyclist legally has the right of way, and motorists must yield. This is particularly important when turning; if a motorist is turning right while a bicyclist intends to pass on the right and continue forward through the intersection, the motorist must wait until the bicyclist is fully past. For either left or right turns, motorists may not pass the bicyclist until the turn is fully completed; they must follow the bicyclist through the intersection.
Motorists must pass bicyclists slowly (which is to say, at or below the speed limit) and allow at least three feet of distance between the furthest reaching part of the car and the furthest reaching part of the bike. If the body of the car is three feet away from the cyclist, but the side mirror nearly grazes the cyclist’s handlebars, the car is too close. If a motorist is unable to pass with three feet of distance because of oncoming traffic in the opposite direction, the motorist must travel behind the cyclist until it is possible to pass at the legal distance.
“Dooring,” the term for injuring a cyclist by opening a car door in the cyclist’s path too suddenly for the cyclist to avoid it, is quite common in urban areas. Many cyclists and motorists alike consider it a simple hazard of urban biking; however, dooring is illegal in Chicago and the motorist should be fined for an instance. Dooring is also fully the legal fault of the motorist in all cases, making the motorist responsible for the cyclist’s injuries and damages. Motorists are legally required to check for incoming bicyclists before opening their vehicle’s door.
Motorists are not permitted to follow a bicycle too closely, though the definition of “too closely” is loose and not clearly defined. Essentially, a motorist should obey the same tailgating laws that apply to other motorists; there should be ample room for the motorist to come to a full stop safely, without endangering the cyclist in front, should the cyclist have to come to a sudden halt. That distance will vary depending on the speed limit of the area; for example, a car would need to provide more distance for the cyclist if it is traveling at 40 mph than if it is traveling at 25 mph.
Bike lane laws
Motorists are never permitted to park in bike lanes (as frequently occurs when motorists “double park”) or to allow their vehicle to drift into the bike lane at all. This is true at the end and beginning of streets; the bike lanes are marked such that there is ample room for cars to make turns and otherwise manuever legally without impinging on the bike lane. Some motorists pay little attention to the bike lanes when making turns, however, and may cut off a cyclist who expects the motorist to respect the boundary line.
What do I do if someone breaks the bike laws?
If you encounter a motorist who is breaking one of these laws, particularly if they are doing so in a way that endangers a cyclist, report them immediately to the police. Take note of the license number, make, model, and color of the vehicle, and if it is possible to get a look at the driver without endangering yourself, do that as well. Call the police and let them know where the incident occurred and whether anyone was in danger or has been injured because of the driver’s negligence. Be prepared to meet the police and give a statement; generally one officer will come to take your statement while another searches the area for the vehicle. If you or a loved one has been injured in a bicycle collision, please contact the Willens Law Offices at 312-957-4166.