What Is a Vulnerable Road User?

And other tips for traveling safely, sans vehicle, in Idaho

Though it’s not always immediately clear to those behind the wheel of a vehicle, roadways are used by more than just automobiles. Walkers, runners, skaters, cyclists, and more are all examples of vulnerable road users—people who aren’t in vehicles but are using the roads to get where they’re going nonetheless. We spoke with Kurt Holzer, a personal injury attorney in Boise, about vulnerable road users, and how both cyclists and drivers can make the roads a safe space for all.

Who is a vulnerable road user?

This concept of a vulnerable road user is somebody who is not in a car or truck: pedestrians, runners, skaters, construction workers, cyclists, somebody on a horse. The idea is that the roads are actually shared-use public space. We’ve moved away from that. The current environment is cars going one way and cars going the other way. This idea says, ‘Hold on: The reality is that cars and trucks are not the only things that use are roadways. So how do we create an environment for those people that recognizes their right to use it, and establishes ground rules for those in cars and trucks?’

It’s an international idea, but there are a handful of states that have adopted definitions of what a vulnerable road user is, and what the rules are around if you’re in a car versus somebody is on a bicycle. The one that has gotten the biggest play is the idea of ‘3 feet to pass’ for bicyclists and other users.

Has Idaho adopted it?

We have not adopted it. It’s one of these things that’s been discussed a couple of times. It takes time, education, understanding, exposure. There may be an effort this year to reinvigorate the concept of an Idaho version of a vulnerable road user statute.

Is Idaho a safe place for bikers in general?

I think Idaho is an incredibly safe and wonderful place. Our biggest population center, Boise, in 2009, had a spate of vehicle cyclist deaths. There were three of them that summer. The mayor at that point convened a group to adopt rules around road safety. And they adopted statutes that are a little more specific than the state statutory structure. We have ‘3 feet to pass’ in Boise, but Idaho is also most famous for ‘stop as yield.’ Cyclists can treat stop signs as yield signs, and stop lights as stop signs.

That’s what they really do anyway. There’s this idea that all rules should be consistent for everybody, but that doesn’t make sense. A 105,000-pound truck loaded with steel is different than a school bus, is different than a passenger car, is different than a bicycle, is different than a kid walking down the sidewalk.

Have you noticed a difference since the changes were adopted?

[‘Stop as yield’] has been one of those things that has gone out from Idaho to the country. Oregon recently adopted it, Arkansas adopted it, Delaware adopted it. It acknowledges how a cyclist can operate safely. As somebody who deals with bicycle-versus-car injury cases, it really is a safety-enhancer, not a safety-reducer. Intersections are the dangerous place, and these get cyclists out of the way faster.  … After the 2009 issues in the Boise area, it was really obvious for those of us who were cyclists that motorists were more tuned in.

The worst thing about our ‘stop as yield’ is you get cyclists who ignore the ‘stop’ part, and you still have to stop at a red light. You can go after if it’s safe to go, but you don’t get to just go run through it. We all have perception issues, right? Even though you have greater perception of what’s going on around you on a bicycle than you do in a car, you can still miss things. We can only see so much, and this is really the problem for many motorists is they don’t see you.

Do you have any go-to tips for cyclist safety?

Be visible, meaning: Wear a helmet, don’t wear dark clothes without your lights or reflectors in the dusk. Be predicable—don’t jump sidewalk to roadway to crosswalk to other side of the roadway. Ride in a straight, predictable line, and follow the law.

One of the things that makes cycling safer is having a certain amount of mass; there’s safety in numbers. You’re at greater safety if you see 30 cyclists on your commute to work than three cyclists. Drivers are going to be more tuned into cyclists if they see them regularly.

What about tips for drivers?

Pass people with safety. Three feet is a huge minimum, right? Give a cyclist or any vulnerable road user as much room as you safely can to pass them. Don’t surprise them—don’t hit your horn. Even a friendly beep can be a scary thing for a cyclist that can lead to a problem.

Recognize that cyclists sometimes aren’t as far to the side of the roadway as you would like because the side is littered with things that present risks to cyclists that are not risks to drivers: a poor drainage grate, a piece of glass, a pothole that your car wouldn’t notice. They’re not out there in the roadway just to cause you a headache.

Dial back the aggression of isolation that we get inside of our cars. And all of us get it. … Be tuned in that cyclists exist. This is true for motorcyclists, skateboarders, pedestrians. Think about the existence of those folks, and you will notice them more often. It’s just a matter of changing our mentality and changing our focus. Creating safety for cyclists out there, there’s no single prong. 

Are there any common misconceptions you get from drivers or cyclists about one another?

The number one common misconception is: All drivers are jerks, and all cyclists are jerks. The reality is that the vast majority of people, whether on their bike or behind the wheel, are really cool with one another. I’m a 6,000 to 8,000 mile-per-year road cyclist, and my experience is that the vast majority of vehicles pass my safely, pay attention to me, are concerned about me as a person. Sometimes overly!

It only takes on driver to make your ride scary. The same is true on the other side: People say cyclists are all crazy; they’ll pass 500 cyclists, and one will be a jerk. And that is what they use to define cyclists. There are bad actors in each group, and we are often defined by our bad actors.

If you’ve been involved in a crash, reach out to an experienced personal injury attorney in Idaho. And if you’d like more information on this area of the law, please see our overview on personal injury law.

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