League of Michigan Bicyclists

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Should I Ride on the Shoulder?

In response to our last issue's article Malevolent Motorists - What Bicyclists Can Do About Them, one of our readers posited the following question: "If the shoulder of the road is not designed for travel, then why is the bicyclist obliged to ride on the shoulder?" This is an excellent question, especially since most of us are faced with this dilemma every time we ride.

While the motor vehicle code does not specifically state that a cyclist should travel on a suitable shoulder, the Michigan Supreme Court, in interpreting the code as it applies to cyclists, has stated that a cyclist that fails to ride on a suitable shoulder may be found partially at fault (or contributorily negligent) if injured in a motor vehicle accident.

Specifically, in Winter v Perz, 335 Mich. 575 (1953), the Michigan Supreme Court examined MCL 257.660 which states, in part, that a person operating a bicycle upon a roadway shall ride as near to the right side of the roadway as practicable. In that case, a young cyclist was struck while riding along the right-hand portion of a road rather than the shoulder. The court ruled that whether or not there was a suitable shoulder was a relevant factual issue and allowed the following jury instruction:

If you find from the evidence that the condition of the shoulder of the road at the time of the accident was such as to afford a suitable path for his bicycle, then it was the duty of the boy to use it and not the roadway and his failure so to do would amount to contributory negligence which would bar plaintiff's recovery. (emphasis added)

Contributory negligence is conduct on the part of the injured party that falls BELOW the standard to which he should conform for his own protection and which is a legally contributing cause to the harm of the injured party. In other words, if an injured party is found to be contributorily negligent, any damage award would be reduced by the percentage the injured party.


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