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Charlotte Bike Accident Lawyers Examine Whether Sharrows are Safer for Bicyclists

Mar 17, 2015 Brown Moore Bicycle Accidents

Shared lane markings, commonly known as sharrows, are relatively new to North Carolina roads. A common belief is that the purpose of the markings is simply to remind motorists that they share certain lanes with bicycles, but the design and purpose are more far-reaching. Now that studies have looked into the effectiveness of sharrows, it is time for drivers and bicyclists to examine their use with an eye toward greater safety.

The Design of Sharrows is Intricate

The appearance of sharrow markings varies from state to state and from one community to the next; however, they typically include images of a chevron and a bicycle. Most people do not realize that these markings are very carefully placed to guide bicyclists to safe areas with the following goals in mind:

  • To reduce the number of bicycle/pedestrian accidents by encouraging bicyclists to ride on the road, rather than on sidewalks
  • To add space between bikes and parked vehicles to reduce the number of riders who get “doored”
  • To increase the space between bicycles and passing motor vehicles
  • To encourage bicyclists to ride in the same direction as motor traffic, as required by law
  • To increase the space between motor vehicles and parked vehicles, even when no bicycles are present

Studies Indicate Sharrows Can Improve Biker Safety

In a 2010 Evaluation of Shared Lane Markings, the Federal Highway Administration examined experiments instituted in Cambridge, MA, Chapel Hill, NC, and Seattle WA. In the NC experiment, the analysis focused on a number of concerns, including the following:

  • Motorist passing frequency: Both before and after the introduction of sharrows, motorists passed bicyclists at a rate of about 91 to 92 percent. When bikers traveled uphill, the passing percentage increased to 98 percent.
  • Motorist passing practices: Before sharrows, 18 percent of motorists completely changed lanes to pass bikes, 58 percent partially changed lanes and 24 percent remained behind the bicycles. After sharrows, those percentages changed to 17, 52, and 32 percent, respectively, and were considered statistically significant. The percentages increased even more for downhill traffic.
  • Safe overtaking by motorists: The study found a statistically significant improvement when examining whether sharrows caused motorists to overtake bikes without slowing down suddenly or changing trajectory. Before sharrows, the safety rate was about 94 percent. After sharrows, the percentage increased to 96 percent.
  • Bicyclist avoidance maneuvers: While riders initiated avoidance maneuvers to avoid conflict with motorists at a rate of 81 percent before sharrows, that percentage decreased to 71 percent after sharrows.

While these and other statistics indicate a degree of improvement to bicyclist safety on NC roads, other test results showed little difference in the distance between motorists and bicycles before and after the introduction of sharrows.

Even With Sharrows, Bicyclists Need to Remain Highly Vigilant

Without a doubt, sharrows add a degree of safety to riders, but dedicated bike lanes are more likely to significantly add to biker protection. Unfortunately, the NC roadways do not always provide the space needed for dedicated lanes, so bicyclists need to remain watchful for risks that can cause bicycle accidents.

These accidents often cause serious injuries to bicyclists and they require skilled legal support to help them pursue the full and fair compensation they deserve. Call us at 800-948-0577, or use our convenient online contact form to schedule a free initial consultation and learn how we can help.