Colorado's Laws Governing Bicyclists: A Blog For Drivers

Colorado's Laws Governing Bicyclists: A Blog For Drivers. Photo Credit: Shutterstock Photo by Shutterstock

While cyclists and motor vehicle drivers share the road, they do not share all of the same rules of the road. This probably comes as little surprise, given the differences between a 20 pound bike and a 6,000 pound SUV. For example, cyclists are allowed on most sidewalks. Cars are not. Cars are allowed on the interstate highway system. Cyclists are not. Cyclists are not required to carry auto insurance or a driver's license. Drivers are obligated to carry both. There are many other differences in the ways that bikes and cars are regulated on public streets, though this is sometimes forgotten, particularly when it appears, to a driver, that a cyclist is holding up traffic or blatantly flouting the law.

Traffic Laws Are Changing Fast

Have you ever been waiting at a red light and watched as a cyclist stops, looks both ways, and decides to go through the intersection on a red? If you felt your blood pressure rise watching this, you would not be the first one. After all, you were following the rules. So why can't the cyclist? You may be surprised to learn that cyclists, in the state of Colorado, are not required by the law to wait at red lights if the coast is clear and they can proceed without violating another road user's right of way. This is just one of many laws that differ for drivers and cyclists.

Whether you just got your learner's permit or you've been driving in Colorado for decades, you will be doing a neighbor, family member, or friend (someone close to you likely rides a bike from time to time) a great favor by keeping up to date on Colorado's laws that pertain to cyclists. Below are some of the key misunderstandings that drivers have when it comes to bike law.

No, Cyclists Do Not Always Have to Stop at Stop Signs or Wait at Red Lights

One of the most recent changes to Colorado law is the Safety Stop, which was passed in 2022. It allows cyclists over the age of 15 to ride through stop signs, at speeds of 10 miles per hour or less, without stopping, as long as they do not violate the right of way of another road user. Simply put, this means they can roll through the stop sign if no other drivers, cyclists, or pedestrians have priority in that intersection. Cyclists aged 15 and up are also allowed to:

  1. First come to a stop at a red light, and then
  2. Proceed through the intersection before the light turns green if there are no crossing pedestrians or immediate oncoming traffic.

While counterintuitive to many drivers, the Safety Stop is actually safer in many scenarios for cyclists than fully stopping at stop signs or waiting for red lights to turn green. The primary reason is that intersections are one of the most likely places for a cyclist to be struck by a distracted or speeding driver, and getting through intersections more quickly limits the exposure time in these dangerous intersections. For more information on the Safety Stop, please check out our dedicated blog on the Safety Stop or the Colorado Department of Transportation's Safety Stop pamphlet.

Riding Outside of the Bike Lane or Shoulder is Legal for Cyclists

True or false: cyclists are always required to ride as far to the right as possible? False. Cyclists can deviate from the shoulder of the road, the bike lane, or the right side of the road in general in many cases. Examples of when a cyclists can take the full lane, ride in the left lane of a four-lane road, or otherwise ride out into the center of the lane include:

  • When the cyclist is riding the normal speed of motor vehicle traffic
  • When the cyclist is making a left turn or preparing to make a left turn
  • When the cyclist is avoiding broken glass, rocks, gravel, garbage, cracks, potholes, puddles, ice, snow, or other hazardous riding surfaces
  • When there are parked vehicles, traffic cones, refuse bins, or other large objects in the bike lane, on the shoulder, or on the right side of the road
  • When the cyclist is passing another cyclist or simply riding side by side with another cyclist
  • When the cyclist is passing a slower-moving motor vehicle
  • When the cyclist intends on going straight and there is a dedicated right turn lane
  • When the cyclist is passing on-street-parking vehicles (so as to create a buffer between themselves and exiting occupants)

Furthermore, cyclists may—at all times—ride at least a few feet to the left of the edge of the pavement to give themselves a margin of error when it comes to steering and maneuverability.

Riding Side by Side is Legal Throughout Colorado

One of the most common reasons cyclists get honked at, or buzzed, is by riding side by side with another cyclist (referred to as riding two-abreast). Some drivers may simply be looking for an excuse to harass, while others may not be knowledgeable of the law. In either case, the honking or irritated driver is in the wrong. Riding side by side is perfectly in line with Colorado law in almost all cases. Cyclists have the right to ride two-abreast whether there is a bike lane, a shoulder, or no shoulder at all. In cases where there is no shoulder or both cyclists are outside of the shoulder/bike lane, the two cyclists can ride two abreast as long as they are not impeding the “normal and reasonable movement of traffic.” There is no clear line as to what that means, but it is fair to say that cyclists are not allowed to impede traffic in such a way as to cause a long line of irritated and waiting motor vehicles. On the other end of the spectrum, simply causing a motorist to briefly slow down and wait a few seconds before safely passing is quite probably legally permissible, and does not rise to a standard of impeding the normal and reasonable movement of traffic.

Though arguably legal, there are a few exceptions where cyclists will see yellow cautionary road signs urging them to ride single file on narrow, winding mountain roads without shoulders. Safety and courtesy are achieved when cyclists ride single file in those circumstances. These limited circumstances are ripe for conflict among road users, and all involved should exercise caution and cooperation with one another.

How Much Space You Need to Give a Cyclist When You Pass–At Least Three Feet

Colorado's Three-Feet-to-Pass law was enacted back in 2009, yet many drivers are still unaware that it is against the law to pass a cyclist without providing a minimum of three feet. Colorado law states that there must be three feet of separation between the right side of your vehicle, including mirrors or other projections, and the left side of the cyclist.

Keep in mind that three feet is the absolute, bare minimum. Imagine standing with your back turned to a semi-truck barrelling toward you at 65 miles per hour and being passed with only three feet between you and the truck's wheels. Those three feet won't feel like nearly enough. So how much space should you give a cyclist? A general rule of thumb is to provide as much room as possible. Most cyclists prefer six or more feet between them and your vehicle when possible, and if there is no oncoming traffic, feel free to give them an entire lane, especially if the shoulder is narrow or they are riding side by side with another cyclist. Not only is it legal for drivers to go over a double yellow line in the center of the road (when it is safe) to give extra space to cyclists, it is the courteous thing to do.

Should I Use My Horn to Notify Cyclists I'm Approaching From Behind?

No. This is not only jarring for the cyclist, but also dangerous, and could cause them to lose control of their bike and crash. Cyclists almost always hear approaching vehicles long before the driver is ready to pass, and by the time you reach them it should be assumed that the cyclist(s) is already as far to the right of the road as they deem safe; honking is not necessary. Furthermore, honking out of irritation or impatience (road rage) is illegal. Using a horn other than for the purpose of a safety warning is unlawful. Drivers in Colorado can be cited for excessive or aggressive honking directed at cyclists.

Call Bike Crash Attorney Brad Tucker Today For Assistance

If you were injured in a bike crash, you have the same right as any other road user, including drivers. You have the right to seek damages by filing a personal injury claim with any liable parties who caused the collision. Feel free to call Brad Tucker at Colorado Bike Law today at 303.694.9300 to schedule a free consultation at your convenience.