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Rules of the Road: What Michigan Cyclists Need to Know

Rules of the Road: What Michigan Cyclists Need to Know

This week, as more Michiganders take to the trails and bike paths (not to mention roadways) across the state, we take a look at the laws that affect bicyclists and motorists alike.  While breaking the rules that relate to bicycle riding would result mostly in civil penalties, motorists have greater responsibility to ensure the safety of bicyclists. If you’re contemplating riding a bicycle in Michigan you should consider the rules and regulations that are in place to ensure your safety, and that of other Michiganders sharing the roads with you.

Our latest blog post gives some insights into Michigan bicycle laws, outlines how motorists and bicycles should safely interact, and offers guidance on recent changes to no-fault insurance rules.  Enjoy the nice weather, and stay safe on your Schwinns!

Bicycle laws for Michigan riders

A great source of information for bicyclists in the Great Lakes State is the League of Michigan Bicyclists. Based in Lansing, this organization lobbies on behalf of cyclists for safer roads, bicycle-friendly legislation, and other causes intended to make the state a better environment for anyone riding on human-powered wheels. Its website has a useful compilation of the laws in place that directly impact Michigan bicyclists. Among them are the following:

  • Use hand signals to alert others on the road. For instance, when making a left turn, point your left arm in that direction; when turning right, either raise your left arm upward or indicate your turn by pointing out horizontally with your right arm; and when signaling a stop or reduction in speed, point your left arm in a downward direction.
  • Drive with the flow of traffic. On a two-lane road, stay in the right lane, as close to the edge of the road as safe and practicable. On one-way roads, you are permitted to ride in the left lane (critically important if you’re making a left turn!) but you may still wish to stay in the right lane to permit faster traffic to pass you on the left.
  • Walk your bike when required. Across most of the state, it’s okay to ride on the sidewalk, but you must always yield the right of way to pedestrians. And in some places, sidewalks are off limits to bicyclists. In downtown Royal Oak, for example, you are prohibited from riding on sidewalks or crosswalks and must instead walk your bike. (Signs about this city ordinance have been in place since 2015.) Grand Rapids and Traverse City (among some other places) have similar regulations in place covering bicycle use on sidewalks in downtown areas. So be sure to check with your own locality to make certain you’re following its bicycle-related rules related to sidewalks.
  • Ride at night, use a light. After sunset and before dawn, you’re required to have a white light visible for 500 feet in the front of your bike, and a red reflector on the rear.
  • Give yourself a “brake.” It might seem obvious, but it’s illegal (not to mention stupid) to ride a bicycle in Michigan without properly operating brakes. How do you know they’re working? If your brakes won’t cause the wheels to skid on dry pavement, they’re not strong enough.

Police officers in Michigan are charged with enforcing these laws and others related to bicycles, bicyclists, and their behavior on the road. A handy reference guide for law enforcement published by the Office of Highway Planning enumerates many of the Michigan Compiled Laws that are directly related to bicycling in the state.

Bicycle laws for Michigan drivers

Just as riders are bound by rules and regulations, motorists have to take care that they don’t put bicyclists in danger through their actions (or inattention) on the road. For example, Michigan law states that bicyclists have specific rights automobile drivers must observe. These include:

  • Giving riders at least three feet of clearance when passing. In most of the state, the three-foot rule is the law of the land … but some municipalities, including Ann Arbor, Kalamazoo and neighboring Portage, Dearborn, and Muskegon have enacted local ordinances requiring a minimum five feet of space.
  • Permitting bicyclists to have a full lane for travel. While bicyclists are usually required to remain as far to the right as possible, there are some places where they are entitled to use the full traffic lane. Such areas are marked by black-and-white signs with text reading “May Use Full Lane” under a bicycle icon. Generally, these signs are placed in areas where road lanes are too narrow to permit both a bicycle and motor vehicle to occupy them simultaneously.

No-fault insurance applies … well, sort of

While you don’t have to carry insurance to ride a bike, you might want to consider it. Last June, new laws went into effect that changed the state’s no-fault insurance standards. These laws could have an impact on cyclists in a few ways. For one thing, motorists are now permitted to buy insurance that limits allowable medical expenses. (Formerly, there were no limitations in place.) While that can result in paying less for car insurance, it could also put motorists (and therefore, bicyclists) at greater financial risk if they face major medical expenses. Another change to the no-fault rules permits injured parties to file suit against at-fault drivers for costs in excess of insurance coverage limits. Yet another issue posed by the changes is that bicyclists who don’t own cars (and as a result don’t have auto insurance coverage) will have limited protection if they are hit by motor vehicles. Because of these changes, the League of Michigan Bicyclists is encouraging riders to purchase unlimited coverage (for people who drive motor vehicles) or policies called “non-owner” insurance (for bicyclists who don’t own cars) to minimize these risks.

But what about kids riding bicycles? They’re also covered by the same no-fault insurance regulations — whether they’re vehicle passengers, bicyclists or pedestrians who are injured by a motorist.

That brings us to a key point. While no-fault insurance was intended to offer solid protections to people involved in motor vehicle accidents, changing laws and unexpected circumstances sometimes negatively affect people whose lives are never again the same due to the negligence of others. If that describes you, we can help. Our bicycle accident lawyers are highly experienced and knowledgeable about bicycle laws in Michigan. Give us a call at 855-MIKE-WINS (855-645-3946) or email us to set up a free no obligation consultation.

Additional Resources:

In addition to many local groups, there are several statewide organizations associated with bicycling in Michigan. Here’s a brief list:

Michigan Mountain Bike Association (MMBA) — dedicated to promoting and enhancing mountain biking opportunities, with chapters throughout the state.

Program to Educate All Cyclists (PEAC) — a non-profit that advocates for and assists Michigan cyclists with disabilities.

Michigan Trails & Greenway Alliance (MTGA) — working toward the development and growth of non-motorized vehicle and pedestrian trails throughout the state.

The League of American Bicyclists — a national organization that promotes safe and enjoyable bicycling, which ranks Michigan #15 among the states for bicycle friendliness.