Monday, November 8, 2010

Drivers Must Look For Bicyclists Before Turning Right

Many Chicago motorists do not look for bicyclists on their right when turning right.  Few city cyclists would dispute that the ol' right hook -- where a motorist turns right in front of you -- is scary and all too common.  It is one of the most feared types of incidents, second only to being "doored."  What duty does the motorist wishing to turn right owe to bicyclists anyway?  A driver may satisfy the duty of reasonable care by doing three things:  (1)  Using a turn signal; (2)  Turning right from the right lane; and (3)  Looking right for bikes before starting to turn.  When you've done all three, you've done your job toward protecting a bicyclist who may be on your right.

Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin

Turning right only after merging as far to the right as is reasonably possible and engaging the vehicle's turn signal provide notice to any bicyclist behind you of your intent.  Being predictable while driving (or biking) is very important to prevent crashes.  When you provide roadway users around you with notice of your intent you have given them the information they need to act appropriately.  Making sudden,capricious maneuvers is antithetical to safe driving. Many good and reasonable drivers understand signal use and do merge right before turning right. However, it seems that even otherwise conscientious motorists fail to understand that they must look in their right rear view mirrors before turning right.    In an urban setting it is possible, and even likely that a cyclist will be coming up on your right at an intersection, alleyway or driveway.  Illinois law requires bicyclists to "ride as close as practicable and safe to the right-hand curb" as possible. 625 ILCS 5/11-1505.  Also, most bike lanes in our city are along the right side of the road.  Because Illinois law, and urban roadway design tend to funnel cyclists to the right, emergence of a bicyclist from a motorist's right is very likely at any given point of the roadway.  Given this foreseeability, searching right before executing a turn is an absolute requirement for safe driving.

When the driver wishing to turn right sees a cyclist coming up on the right what should he or she do?  Stop, and let the bicyclist pass on the right (as in the diagram above) before executing a turn.  The Municipal Code of Chicago states:
9-16-020(f)  Turning right in front of a bicycle
When a motor vehicle and a bicycle are traveling in the same direction on any highway, street or road, the operator of the motor vehicle overtaking such bicycle traveling on the right side of the roadway shall not turn to the right in front of the bicycle at that intersection or at any alley or driveway until such vehicle has overtaken and is safely clear of the bicycle.
Only when the motorist is well passed the bicyclist, or the bicyclist well passed the motor vehicle, may the driver turn right.  If the cyclist would need to stop or slow to avoid a collision, then he or she should be permitted to pedal by before a turn is executed by the motorist.

It is important to note that bicyclists do not have to pass a motor vehicle on the driver's right at an intersection.  Since bicyclists are especially vulnerable users of the roadway, Illinois law permits cyclists options when navigating an intersection.  Section 11-1505 permits bicyclists to merge from the right-hand curb, "When approaching a place where a right turn is authorized."  The bicyclist may pass a right turning vehicle on the left -- like a car might -- when it is safe to do so.  Of course, conditions may not permit such a maneuver, and the safest approach may require staying along the right of the roadway.   


  1. Do bicyclists on sidepaths receive the same rights, or does a different part of Illinois law apply to them?

    I mistimed a crossing and ended up getting right-hooked, but I've also been told that a bike on a sidepath is the same as a bike on a sidewalk, and therefore is considered a pedestrian. Which makes sidepath-major arterial crossings much more difficult.

  2. Rob, I suppose I'd like to know more about how your accident took place and the locale. Feel free to phone me at 312.236.2522 to discuss it.


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