Indianapolis sports many trails for cyclist to enjoy such as the Monon Trail, Cultural Trail, and Cardinal Greenway Trails. This makes the city and surrounding area a prime spot for cycling. But what about the interaction cyclists have with drivers on roadways or pedestrians on sidewalks? We have all been aggravated by situations where a cyclist is riding in the middle of the road and won’t move. Coincidentally we have all probably been walking on a sidewalk and been startled by a cyclist blowing by. So where are cyclist supposed to ride? This confusion among pedestrians, cyclists, and motorist has led to an increased number of bicycle accidents.
Since, 2011 bicycle accidents in Indianapolis have increased from 170 in 2011 to 250 in 2013, nearly 47%.1 These accidents tend to cause cyclists severe injuries due to the size difference and regularly cause brain and spinal injuries, or even death. Motorists also end up paying for these accidents as they regularly result in large damage awards. But why so many of these accidents? Well opinions differ on the answer to that question. Some attribute the rise in these accidents to the increased number of cyclist. Others, however, attribute the rise in bike accidents to the confusing bike laws in both Indiana and the additional laws for the city of Indianapolis. So what are the laws in Indiana? Indianapolis?
It may seem odd, but under Indiana Law a bicycle is defined as ANY foot-propelled vehicle, irrespective of its number of wheels.2 The laws governing how and where bicycles are to be operated are contained in Indiana Code § 9-21-11-1 through 9-21-11-11. Below is a quick explanation as to what each of the sections that pertains to operation of a bicycle roadways means.
A) Parents cannot tell their children to violate these laws
B) These laws apply whenever a bicycle is operated on a highway or bike path
9-21-11-2: Cyclists have all the rights and duties of people driving cars, except:
A) Special Regulations to follow
B) Laws that are not applicable to cyclists
9-21-11-5: A person riding a bike may not attach to a motorized vehicle upon a roadway
9-21-11-6: Cyclists on roadways cannot ride more than two wide (Side-by-Side) unless on a bike path or part of a roadway set aside for bikes.
9-21-11-11: A person riding a bike on a highways must operate under these laws.
The sections not mentioned pertain to safety regulations such as brake and reflector requirements. As you can see cyclist have the same privileges as those driving cars. This means they are allowed to use the roadways and they must obey all the same traffic signals as those driving cars. This seems to mean that bicycles may use the roadways just as a car does.
Many legal experts, however, believe the Indiana slow moving vehicle statute which says slow moving vehicles should be in the right lane or as close to the curb as possible means bikes should operate as close to the edge of the right lane as possible, not in the middle of the lane. Cyclists believe that drivers are less likely to see them if they are close to the curb so they favor riding in the middle of the lane. The confusion over this law has led to many accidents and tension between motorists and cyclists. Additionally, Indiana has recently passed a law that, also known as the “Dead Red” law, that allows people operating bicycles, motorcycles, and mopeds to run a red light if they have been stopped at it for two minutes and the proceed with caution. This law was passed because many traffic signals are triggered by the weight of a car and smaller vehicles like a bike may not trigger the sensors. Whether this new law adds to the confusion or not is still up in the air, but it likely will.
To complicate things further, Indianapolis has its own bike laws which are Indianapolis Ordinances § 441-371 through 441-373. These ordinances are explained as follows3:
A) Bike lanes are to be used only by cyclists, unless specific signage permits pedestrians
B) The only motorized vehicle allowed on bike paths are mopeds being operated solely by human power
C) A person operating a motor vehicle may only drive upon bike lanes when making a turn into another road, alley, driveway, etc.
A) Drivers must yield the right-of-way to cyclists in a bike lane
B) Drivers passing cyclists on roadways must allow a minimum of three feet of space when passing
A) Drivers may not park on or impede bike lanes unless they are entering or exiting a legal parking place
B) Drivers may not park on or impede lanes designated to be shared by cyclists and motorists
C) Any vehicle violating this section may be removed immediately
The important parts of the Indianapolis bike law are that pedestrians are not supposed to be on bike paths, drivers must yield to cyclist on bike paths, drivers must not pass a biker unless they allow for three (3) feet of space between their vehicle and the cyclist while doing so, and drivers may not park in bike lanes or shared bike/car lanes. The Indianapolis laws seem to be fairly straight forward and uncomplicated, but for whatever reason bicycle accidents have skyrocketed in Indianapolis at a rate much higher than the rest of the state. Much of that can probably be attributed to the increase in riders and driver negligence, but confusion about bike laws is also to blame.
Many experts believe bicycle accidents could be prevented by less confusing bike laws or more education on what the current bike laws are. With the increase in cyclists it is important for Hoosiers to become more aware of the laws regulating how cyclists and motorists should interact. Until that happens, however, the high rate of accidents involving cyclist is likely to persist. If you or a loved one is injured while riding your bike contact an experienced attorney immediately.
2 Indiana Code § 9-13-2-14