This month, we will focus on the following Rules of the Road: (1) bicycle laws and (2) seat belt laws.
Tennessee has several statutes concerning the operation of bicycles on roadways and the treatment of bicycle riders by operators of motor vehicles. The focus of this article is Tennessee Code Annotated § 55-8-172 and § 55-8-175. Section 55-8-172 generally applies the Rules of the Road to bicycle riders with some exceptions:
(a) Every person riding a bicycle upon a roadway is granted all of the rights and is subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this chapter and chapter 10, parts 1-5 of this title, except as to special regulations in §§ 55-8-171 — 55-8-177, and except as to those provisions of this chapter and chapter 10, parts 1-5 of this title that by their nature can have no application.
(b) A violation of subsection (a) is a Class C misdemeanor.
In short, this statute recognizes (1) that bicycle riders who operate bicycles on roads with motor vehicles should be bound by the same rules governing the drivers of motor vehicles on those roads and (2) that, due to their physical differences, bicycles cannot abide by all Rules of the Road.
Section 55-8-175 contains some specific guidance for both bicycle riders and motor vehicle operators sharing the road with bicycle riders. In short, this statute requires bicycles to be ridden as far right as possible when they are being operated below the normal speed of traffic, subject to a few exceptions:
Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway, except under any of the following situations:
(A) When overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction;
(B) When preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway; or
(C) When reasonably necessary to avoid conditions including, but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, parked or moving vehicles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards, or substandard width lanes that make it unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or edge. For purposes of this section, “substandard width lane” means a lane that is too narrow for a bicycle and another vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane.
Subsection (c) contains a 3-foot clearance requirement for motor vehicle operators:
The operator of a motor vehicle, when overtaking and passing a bicycle proceeding in the same direction on the roadway, shall leave a safe distance between the motor vehicle and the bicycle of not less than three feet (3′) and shall maintain the clearance until safely past the overtaken bicycle.
Subsection (c) is titled the “Jeff Roth and Brian Brown Bicycle Protection Act of 2007.” Jeff Roth was a bicyclist struck and killed while riding his bicycle on a roadway in Maryville, Tennessee. Likewise, Brian Brown was a bicyclist struck and killed while riding his bicycle on a roadway in Martin, Tennessee. This subsection was added to the statute in 2007 to protect bicyclists such as these men and to avoid traffic crashes involving bicycle riders.
Seat Belt Laws
Tennessee Code Annotated § 55-9-603 contains Tennessee’s seat belt law for drivers and passengers in motor vehicles. Subsection (a) provides the general rule:
(1) No person shall operate a passenger motor vehicle on any highway, as defined in § 55-8-101, in this state unless the person and all passengers four (4) years of age or older are restrained by a safety belt at all times the vehicle is in forward motion.
(2) No person four (4) years of age or older shall be a passenger in a passenger motor vehicle on any highway, as defined in § 55-8-101, in this state, unless the person is restrained by a safety belt at all times the vehicle is in forward motion.
Put simply, all passengers four (4) years of age and older must wear a seat belt when the vehicle is in motion. This statute has many provisions. In addition to the section quoted above, subsection (i) of the statute puts the responsibility on teenagers between the ages of 16 and 18 to have their seat belts on. In fact, section 55-9-606 protects drivers from being fined “for the failure of any passenger over sixteen (16) years of age to wear a safety belt.”
By Erik Fuqua