Criteria for Rating Bicycle Traffic Laws

by Fred Oswald, Chuck Smith, Riley Geary, John Schubert,
Paul Schimek, Sarah Etter, Steve Gottlieb, Kirby Beck, Preston Tyree,
Ray Thomas, Alan Wachtel, Steve Magas


Below are scoring factors for rating the rules of the Uniform Vehicle Code and state bicycle traffic laws.  We start with 100 points, then deduct for problems and add points for any good features.  Several of the more common defects are listed in the table below.

Ratings are based on three types of defects:  (1) Mandated dangerous practices for cyclists; (2) Unnecessary differences in driving rules (i.e. non-uniform rules) for cyclists compared to other drivers; and (3) Any measures that deny cyclists equal rights or equal protection under the law.

In deciding how many points to deduct for a problem, we consider how many people are impacted as well as seriousness.  Because sidewalks are much more common than sidepaths (a sidepath is a path beside the road), mandated riding on sidewalks is more serious than on sidepaths.  Likewise, rules applying only to younger children rather than everyone are somewhat less serious because fewer people are involved.  Also, adult cyclists tend to ride faster and are more likely to ride in commercial areas where bad laws create extra hazard.

We will add points for any positive factors, such as a good "bicycle drivers manual" (as in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, Idaho and Arizona).  Such a manual helps interpret traffic law correctly.  This can ameliorate the effect of some bad laws, such as those that mandate riding "as near to the right curb as practicable."  Added points make scores over 100 points possible.

Once we arrive at a point score, we determine a "grade", based on the following scale:

  A+, over 100    A, 95 to 100    A-, 93-94 
  B+, 91-92    B, 81 to 90    B-, 79-80 
  C+, 77-78    C, 67 to 76    C-, 65-66 
  D+, 63-64    D, 53 to 62    D-, 51-52 
  F+, 49-50    F, 39 to 48    F-, below 39 

Traffic Law Defects

-100 Mandates riding wrong way (creates failing score)
-80
-80
-30
-30
-30
Mandates riding on sidewalk (creates failing score)
Prohibits bicycles from all main streets (a "stealth" sidewalk law)
Lower deduction if prohibition applies only where speed limit is above 50 mph
Lower deduction if engineering study, alternate route & signs reqd.
Mandates riding on sidewalk only for under age 16
-40
-25
-25
-20
-15
Mandates riding on sidepath, shoulder or bike lane
Lower deduction if applies only where sidepath is "usable" and signed
Mandates ride on sidepath or shoulder only for under age 16
Lower deduction if includes UVC "far right" exceptions
Lower deduction if also includes CA "right turn authorized" exceptions
-30
-20
-15
  -1
Allows unlimited local "regulation of the operation of bicycles" (non-uniform laws)
Lower deduction if allows only local sidepath ordinance.
Allows local bicycle ban on major highway
Local authorities may mandate registration (rather than voluntary program)
-30 Cyclists on road are not due "ordinary care" under the law
-25
-20
-10
"Shall ride within 3 feet of right edge of road" (or similar)
"Shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb", with no exceptions
Lower deduction if includes all UVC exceptions
  -6
  -3
-10
Mandatory helmet law that applies to adult cyclists
Law that applies only to children
Additional deduction if law lacks strong "contributory negligence" exclusion
-10 Prohibits normal vehicular left turn
-10
  -5
"Shall ride single file" (no exceptions)
Lower deduction depending on exceptions
  -5 Encourages construction of dangerous facilities
  -5
Motor vehicle restrictions that should not apply to bicycles:
(following too closely, racing, etc.)
  -3 Irresponsible brake requirements (skid braked wheel)
  -2 "Nuisance" safety equipment required (bell, front, wheel & pedal reflectors, etc)
  -2 Right-arm right turn signal not authorized
  -2 Unreasonable turn signal requirement (continuous or even if not safe)
  -2 Authorizes bicycle-specific traffic control devices
  -1 Lacks provision allowing bicycle access to freeway shoulders
  -1 Slow vehicle "as close as practicable to the right-hand curb"
  -1 Missing language "intent is to facilitate overtaking" in slow veh. rule

Minor Defects (scored as a group)

Lacks provision allowing preparing for left turn early
Lacks exception to no-passing zone rule for passing of slow vehicles
Lacks language prohibiting "points" for bicycle violations
"Give way to the right on audible signal"
Lacks cycling skills course for violators
Police authorized to inspect bicycles
Lacks child seat or trailer language or allow child in backpack
Lacks language authorizing additional lights or reflectors
Lacks language saying riding two abreast does not impede traffic if no conflicting traffic
Poor definition of bicycle (not recognizing recumbents or trikes)

Positive Factors (points added up to limit shown)

  +2 Permits and requires motorists to merge into a bike lane before turning.
  +1 Expressly permits but does not require cycling on the shoulder.
  +2 Local authorities may reduce the fine for bicycling offenses
  +2 Language to discourage unsafe sidewalk riding

For a discussion on why the "defects" listed above are bad practices see
"A Guide to Improving U.S. Traffic Laws Pertaining to Bicycling" by Paul Schimek.

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This is a work in progress, subject to revision.
Send any comments/suggestions to: fredoswald_AT_yahoo.com.
Rev. 9/27/07


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