Following the death of councilman Buddy Amoroso in a cycling crash Saturday and a deadly cycling crash Thursday in Slidell, the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission and a lawyer who represents people injured in cycling crashes are explaining Louisiana’s laws.
In Louisiana, cyclists are given equal access to roads and have to follow many of the same rules as drivers.
“Louisiana law is very clear that the driver of a car shall exercise due care while the motor vehicle is passing the bicycle and shall leave at least three feet between the car and the bike,” Louisiana Highway Safety Executive Director Lisa Freeman said. “Bicyclists must obey the same traffic laws as motor vehicle drivers while staying as near to the right side of the road as possible.”
Attorney Charlie Thomas with Bike Law handles cycling cases across the state. He said state law requires cyclists to move as far to the right as practicable.
“Louisiana law requires that, if you are riding a bike, you stay as far to the right as practicable. That is a very different word than possible. Practicable is essentially as far to the right as you safely can,” Thomas said.
Also, if there is a bike path or bike lane nearby, cyclists are not required to use it. There is also not a statewide law about riding on sidewalks, but certain municipalities and parishes do have rules in place. For example, in Baton Rouge, cyclists cannot ride on sidewalks in ‘business districts.’
State law requires cyclists under 12-years-old wear a helmet, but there are no specifications for adults. However, experts still advise wearing a helmet as a safety precaution.
Thomas said, while it is important for cyclists to follow the laws, drivers need to do the same. If drivers want to pass a bicyclist, they are required to move at least three feet away.
“Louisiana requires that you safe pass at a minimum clearance of three feet,” Thomas said.
Drivers also must adhere to distracted driving laws in the state, but Thomas said there are loopholes. For example, someone cannot text, send an email or go on social media while driving. However, they could play Candy Crush. Thomas said, regardless of what the law specifies, it is never safe to drive with distractions.
Drivers can also get DUIs for driving impaired. However, Thomas said a Supreme Court decision confirmed DUI laws only apply to motor vehicles. With that being said, electronic bikes that have pedal assist motors are considered motor vehicles, so driving an electronic bike impaired could potentially warrant a DUI.
Thomas said, out of the cases he handles, many crashes could be prevented by paying attention.
“The majority of the crashes we are seeing likely have a distracted driving factor in them. We are just asking people to put down your phone and pay attention,” Thomas said.
He shares more analysis of Louisiana’s cycling laws on the Bike Law website.
The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development also has more information on cycling laws on the department website.