Bicycle Safety Matters

The Portland bicycle scene can seem overwhelming at times to both veterans bicyclists and newcomers. It's hard to keep up with all the various rules of the road. Just knowing what you, as a bike rider, can or cannot do is confusing at times. For example, did you know that under the Vehicle Code ORS 814.400, a bicycle is considered a vehicle? Moreover, bicyclists must use the bike lane if it is provided, however, there are exceptions, such as when it is unsafe to do so ( ORS 814.420). Angel Law PC, an injury litigation lawfirm in Portland Oregon representing bicyclists injured in car accidents, offers this brief article to discuss the Helmet Law, the Vulnerable User Law, and Safe Passing law as well as other various resources regarding safe and enjoyable bike riding.

Helmet Law:

A helmet is an important piece of safety gear that protects us from severe head injuries. ORS 814.485 requires bicyclists or bicycle riders under the age of 16 to wear protective headgear. Not doing so is considered a traffic violation and risks the penalty of a maximum fine of $25. However, there are exemptions. ORS 814.487 outlines that helmet use is exempted if it violates the individual's religious beliefs or practices. If an exemption does not apply, safe protective headgear must meet the minimum standards of the American National Standards Institute, Snell or the United States Department of Transportation ( ORS 815.052).

The U.S. Department of Transportation provides a simple guide on how to properly fit a bicycle helmet. The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute offers comprehensive information about bike helmets such as statistics, law and local jurisdictions of the various states, bike helmet standards, and bicycle news.

Vulnerable User Law:

Back in January 2008, the Oregon legislature passed into law a new legal concept which addresses a category of non-motorized roadway users, the "vulnerable roadway user." The new law interacts with Oregon's Careless Driving statute in that it adds additional penalties for careless driving if it contributes to serious physical injury or death of a vulnerable roadway user of a public way. Take a look at ORS 801.608, the definition of "vulnerable roadway user," and ORS 811.135. As you can see, a vulnerable user of a public way includes not only pedestrians, but bicyclists, skateboarders, in-line skaters/roller skaters, scooters, and highway workers. As such, in an accident which causes physical harm or death to a vulnerable user of a public way, a court can pose additional penalties to the careless driver. These penalties include:

  • Attendance at a traffic safety course
  • 100 – 200 hours of community service
  • A fine of up to $12,500
  • A suspension of driving privileges for one year
  • A required appearance in court; ORS 153.061

Safe Passing:

In addition to the "vulnerable roadway user" legal concept, the Oregon legislature also passed into law a "safe distance" concept which defines the distance one can pass a person operating a bicycle. The safe distance law does have its exceptions, which include bicyclists in a bicycle lane, when driving at speeds not greater than 35 mph, and passing on the right of a bicyclist who is turning left. Otherwise, "safe distance" is referred to as that distance sufficient to prevent contact with a bicyclist if the bicyclist were to fall into the driver's lane of traffic.

There are many more bike safety resources which provide information on how to have a safe and enjoyable bike ride in Oregon. One of the first places you should check is Oregon's Department of Transportation website. There you will find two sections of interest, the State of Oregon: Bicycle & Pedestrian Program and the Bicycle & Pedestrian Program Laws and Regulations. On the Bicycle & Pedestrian Program link you will find the Oregon Bicyclist Manual. The manual provides safety tips and "how-to" summaries and diagrams pertaining to safe bicycle riding.

In addition, familiarizing yourself with the bicycle paths in your area can promote a safer ride for everyone. The Portland's Bureau of Transportation provides both walking and bicycle maps for anyone who requests. Finally, you can go to the Bicycle & Pedestrian Program Laws and Regulations webpage and click on the ORS Summary page to will find a comprehensive listing of statutes pertaining to bicycle riders as well as pedestrians.

Organizations like Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA), a non-profit membership organization, advocate and promote bicycling and are instrumental in improve bicycling conditions in Oregon. BikePortland.org, a daily news web blogs provides culture, personalities, projects, businesses, breaking news, and advocacy issues about Portland, and also has numerous resources for bicyclists.

While it is everyone's duty to keep Oregon's walkways and streets both safe and enjoyable for all, bicyclists can be particularly vulnerable on crowded public roadways. Staying on top of state laws, learning more about bike riding safety and the resources available all help bicyclists keep themselves and fellow bicyclists and pedestrians safe. Angel Law, P.C. hopes that you will take the time and review these various resources and have both a safe and enjoyable bicycling experience.