Cars vs. bikes: Know the laws

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Love ‘em or hate ‘em, bicyclists enjoy the same road rights as motorists in Mississippi, but recent tragedies reveal too few people know the laws.
David Morgan understands this well. The Starkville resident has spent the past two weeks at North Mississippi Medical Center, where his wife, Jan, remains in an induced coma since being struck by a car while cycling.
The 57-year-old was riding on an open stretch of Highway 50 in Clay County when a sedan struck her traveling about 55 miles per hour. It carried her 200 yards before stopping.
She’s the latest victim in a string of car-on-bicycle accidents that have plagued the region in recent years. At least three cyclists have died and several others have been injured since 2009.
“The most important thing is that, if you see somebody that is vulnerable on the road, be aware that they can be seriously injured very easily,” said David Morgan, himself an avid cyclist. “That bicycle is a vehicle. What if that’s my only means of transportation? What if I just happen to want to be healthy? Why should a bicycle not be on the road?”
When bike paths aren’t available, bicycles have no choice but to be on the road. State and local laws both ban cyclists from sidewalks. Instead, they must ride either in a designated bike lane on the street or, in the absence of a bike lane, as close to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway as safely possible.
They also can’t ride more than two abreast on the road.
Tupelo further requires them to wear certified bike helmets, and have lights on both the front and back of their bicycles.
But even when cyclists fail to comply, Mississippi law still says “every person riding a bicycle … shall have all of the rights and all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle … .”
Motorists, in turn, must treat bicycles as they would any other car or truck on the road. The John Paul Frerer Act, passed into state law last year and named for a Tupelo teen killed while cycling, defines motorists’ obligations to bikers.
Drivers can’t pass cyclists on the road until they can do so safely while allowing a minimum three-foot berth. They can’t make right turns in front of cyclists traveling the same direction.
And motorists face stiff fines and jail time if they harass or lob objects at people on bikes.
“The purpose of a road is to provide access from one place to another,” said Tupelo’s senior planner, Renee Autumn Ray, who last year pushed passage of the city’s Complete Streets policy.
Complete Streets requires the city to design new roads and improve existing ones with all users in mind – motorists, cyclists and pedestrians – as long as it’s financially feasible to do so.
Tupelo’s comprehensive plan, which the City Council adopted in 2008, also calls for municipal bike lanes and bike paths. But the city has made few, if any, strides in implementing them.
In the meantime, expect to see more cyclists – young and old – cruising the streets for health, enjoyment and, sometimes, necessity.
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@journalinc.com.