Rules of the Road: Cycling, Driving, Walking

Zig zag road signs along Belmont Ridge Road at the W&OD bike trail crossing, Loudoun County, VA .
Zig zag road signs along Belmont Ridge Road at the W&OD bike trail crossing, Loudoun County, VA . (Tracy A Woodward/twp - Tracy A Woodward -- The Washington Post)
Capt. Thom Shaw
Field Operations Division, Loudoun County Sheriff's Office
Friday, June 12, 2009; 12:00 PM

Last weekend during 'Bike MS: Beyond the Beltway,' a bicycling fundraiser for multiple sclerosis, several cyclists failed to come to complete stops at some intersections and were ticketed by a Loudoun County sheriff's deputy for running stop signs that day in the Lovettsville and Purcellville areas, authorities said.

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Capt. Thom Shaw, a member of the Field Operations Division of the Loudoun County Sheriff's office, was online Friday, June 12, at Noon ET to discuss the incident and to answer questions about safety and rules of the road when bicyclists, motorists and pedestrians meet.


Capt. Thom Shaw: Good afternoon, my name is Captain Thom Shaw. I am the Assistant Division Commander of the Field Operations Division which oversees day-to-day patrol operations in Loudoun County.

We appreciate the Washington Post and their readers affording us this opportunity to discuss cycling and vehicular safety in the region.


Silver Spring, Md.: Hi Capt. Shaw:

Thanks for taking time to do today's chat. It seems like much of the controversy is that the law doesn't recognize differences in stopping in a bike vs. stopping in a car. Were the cyclists ticketed for going through the intersections without slowing down at all, or for proceeding at 1-2 mph? Not stopping at all is certainly bad news all around, but coming to a near stop is a safe and relatively efficient approach. On a bike, coming to complete stop is not unlike asking a driver to completely stop, put the car in park, turn off the car, and stand next to it. Do you support efforts to change or interpret the law to respect these distinctions?

Capt. Thom Shaw: Our interest is voluntary compliance on all laws, including traffic violations. The Virginia State Code requires a complete stop for bicyclists and motorists on all state highways, controlled by a stop sign or red light. However, based on the deputies observations the cyclists in question proceeded through the stop sign without slowing.


DC Metro Biker: I appreciate the concerns about biker safety. If biker safety is a concern for law enforcement, I believe that there are better means to achieve that goal.

As a cyclist in this metro area, I am hyper aware of my safety. My 25 pound bike is no match for a 2,500 pound car. And as I am on area roads, I feel as though my brethren in their cars have no understand of that mismatch.

I would appreciate enforcement that targets car drivers around biker safety. That would do much more than ticketing a few cyclists for running a stop sign in a rural area.

I am curious what enforcement has been done to ensure our safety by ticketing car drivers?

Thank you.

Capt. Thom Shaw: We are mandated by the Code of Virginia to enforce all traffic laws regardless if they are cyclist or motorist. Deputies make traffic stops on all violations they observe, and these are handled appropriately with a warning or summons.


Training Groups: I have encountered an increasing number of bicycle training groups in recent months. These groups are incredibly difficult to navigate around in hilly areas. A few weeks ago I was stuck behind a group going up a steep hill the slower bikers go no more than 10 miles per hour. There was no way to safely pass and the long line of traffic go so slowly uphill seemed very dangerous. Because these groups are large and take up a wide swath of road passing is difficult forcing cars to either pass in the opposite lane or drive significantly under the speed limit.

Capt. Thom Shaw: According to state code cyclists have a right to the roadway and should be passed on the left in a safe manner. Cyclists are considered vehicles when they are on the highway or at a path that crosses a public roadway.

According to VA State Code 46.2-905 any person operating a bicycle, electric personal assistive mobility device, electric power-assisted bicycle, or moped on a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place under conditions then existing shall ride as close as safely practicable to the right curb or edge of the roadway. There are a few exceptions to this



Persons riding bicycles, electric personal assistive mobility devices, or electric power-assisted bicycles on a highway shall not ride more than two abreast. Persons riding two abreast shall not impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic, shall move into a single file formation as quickly as is practicable when being overtaken from the rear by a faster moving vehicle, and, on a laned roadway, shall ride in a single lane.


BicyclePac, KS: Are bicyclists allowed to ride 3 or 4 across? I thought they were supposed to ride single file. Coming up behind a pack of cyclists doing greater than 20 mph on a winding back road is startling, especially when they are blocking an entire lane.

Capt. Thom Shaw: According to 46.2-905 cyclists shall not ride more than two abreast. More information on the Virginia State Code can be read by following this link.


Mclean, Va.: I bicycle regularly on the W&OD trail (and obey the law). I have witnessed far more cars who fail to yield to stopped cyclists at a crosswalk (or moving cyclists in a crosswalk) than bicyclists who blow through stop signs without regard to traffic. Aren't drivers required to yield at a crosswalk in Virginia (assuming, of course, that the bicycle has stopped at the crosswalk)?

Capt. Thom Shaw: All intersections with state roadways are governed by a stop sign for the cyclists. If the rider stops and yields correctly this should not be an issue.


Columbia: How do you cite a bicycle rider that does not have identification with them? I frequently ride with nothing except for the shirt on my back and bike shorts.

Capt. Thom Shaw: A deputy can verify your information, without formal identification, in most cases through DMV records. In cases where identity cannot be verified, the person would be taken before a Magistrate. This would be the case with any traffic or criminal violation where identity cannot be verified and charges are being sought.


South Riding, Va.: Capt. Shaw, Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. Much has been made of the trail crossing at Belmont Ridge Rd. The trail has a stop sign. Are cyclists required to stop until on coming traffic has cleared? If they dismount and walk their bikes across, do they have the right of way?

Capt. Thom Shaw: Cyclists must stop and yield at these intersections, whether or not they have dismounted. A rider should allow themselves enough time and space to cross the roadway safely, as they would if they were driving a vehicle.


Fairfax, Va.: Was this enforcement routine, or was it set up with the knowledge of the bike event that was occurring in the area?

Do you know if any police representatives provided guidance to the riders before the event that the standard rules of the road would be enforced during the ride? On some bike events and "tours," standard rules of the road are suspended because the route is isolated from regular vehicular traffic to allow a racing environment. Did any of the riders cited have the belief that the event was on an isolated course?

Capt. Thom Shaw: The event coordinator reviewed applicable traffic laws prior to the ride and advised all traffic violations would be enforced.

The deputy in this case was on routine patrol. The agencies dispatch center also received several complaints from residents regarding cyclists violating traffic laws.


Brambleton, Va.: Captain Shaw, A friend and I were riding through Broadlands last weekend during a triathlon, which was also manned by the Loundon County Sheriff's Office. As we approached the stop sign, the sheriff blurted out to us, "You all need to understand the rules of the road apply to you also." Mind you, this was prior to us even arriving to the stop sign (at which we had perfectly intended to come to a full stop). I was a little upset at this comment, considering we had not even broken any law but the sheriff felt the need to call us out on this. This, along with Sherriff Simpson's overly generalized comment posted on this article, creates a perception that all cyclists are not following the rules of the road. I personally just feel this is not helpful and downplays the responsibility that motorists need to understand about sharing the roads. Can you comment as to what type of training the LCSO receives in dealing with cyclists and how LCSO pursues and monitors aggressive drivers who hassle cyclists?

Capt. Thom Shaw: All deputies receive training on traffic laws, including those involving cyclists, during the basic academy training.

The Loudoun Sheriff's Office welcomes all cyclists and motorists who are willing to obey the applicable traffic laws. The agency is mandated by the Virginia State Code to enforce all violations and traffic laws.

The ride in question involved over 700 cyclists. In total, 8 traffic tickets were issued to cyclists for failing to stop for a stop sign. Two other cyclists were charged in Purcellville for assault during a traffic altercation.

The vast majority of cyclists in this event obeyed all traffic laws and road responsibly. Only those with blatant violations were charged.


Chantilly, Va.: Recently, I was driving my van on Belmont Ridge Rd. Two bicyclists were ahead of me, going the same direction I was. They were traveling at 5 mph. I had a double yellow line. They could not pull off the road to let me pass -- there was no room. A long line of cars built up behind me until I got to a passing area.

Is it legal for a motorist to pass a bicyclist when they have a double yellow line, provided there is no oncoming traffic?

Thank you.

Capt. Thom Shaw: In this situation the motorist did the right thing. Motor vehicles are required to pass two feet to the left of a cyclist only when roadway markings allow. In this situation the motorists would have crossed the double-yellow line and been in violation of traffic laws.


Sterling, Va.: What is the law regarding riding a bike on the sidewalk or trail ( ex: around Cascades)?

Also, What are the helmet laws?


Capt. Thom Shaw: The county allows cyclists to ride on sidewalks, unless otherwise posted.

Yes, Loudoun County has a helmet law. Children under age 15 must wear helmets when riding bicycles or motorized scooters.


Arlington, Va.: Thank you for doing this chat. You mentioned earlier that you enforce all Virginia laws, which is why the cyclists were ticketed for running the stop sign. It seems that the police will never be able to enforce all laws all the time. Certainly there must be some prioritizing. A questioner asked about cyclist safety, and whether it's more effective to ticket cars that are dangerous to cyclists or to ticket cyclists who are dangerous. Where are the priorities? And/or what would be more effective in your mind?

Capt. Thom Shaw: As stated earlier the agency is mandated by Virginia State Code to enforce all laws, including traffic violations.

Our priority is enforcing the law and we are seeking voluntary compliance of these laws.

Since January 1, 2009 the agency has issued to motorists 849 summonses for disregarding a stop sign, 354 for disregarding a red light, and 87 for turning right on a red light without stopping.


Reston: Capt. Shaw....Thank you for taking questions today. I rode through one of the intersections on Sunday where citations were given out (with stopping).I did see at least one of the cyclists who were ticketed go through the stop without much slowing. I have no complaints with a ticket being given in those cases.

But I do question why the officer selected to set up at this area. If, as I read in an article, he was there to enforce the safety of all users of the roads. I could think of other places along the routes where safety was a bigger problem than this wide open intersection. Do you know why this spot was selected? Again, I don't condone the running of the stop sign, but this had an appearance of setting up at a place to easily catch riders and write tickets. Thank you.

Capt. Thom Shaw: The deputy was on routine patrol in the Lovettsville area when he observed the violations in question.


Sterling, Va.: An earlier writer asked this:

"I have witnessed far more cars who fail to yield to stopped cyclists at a crosswalk (or moving cyclists in a crosswalk) than bicyclists who blow through stop signs without regard to traffic. Aren't drivers required to yield at a crosswalk in Virginia (assuming, of course, that the bicycle has stopped at the crosswalk)?"

If there is a stop sign on the bike trail, and no stop sign on the road, then no, the drivers should not stop if the bicycles are not yet in the crosswalk, correct? I think there is a lot of misunderstanding about this. Drivers do not stop at a crosswalk with pedestrians or bikers next to it, especially if only they have a stop sign.

Capt. Thom Shaw: Yes, in cases where the trail crosses the roadway and a stop sign is only present for the cyclist, the motorist has the right-of-way.


Leesburg, Va.: How many citations have been issued to cyclists in the county this year? Has that increased or decreased from previous years?

Capt. Thom Shaw: Unfortunately we do not track these statistics, traffic violations are tracked by code and not by type of vehicle.

In general, summonses issued to cyclists would be far fewer then that of motorists. Since January 1, 2009, we have issued over 1200 summonses for motorists disregarding stop signs and traffic signals.

_______________________ This concludes today's discussion with Capt. Tom Shaw. Thank you for joining.


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