In recent years, Vermont has worked to improve its infrastructure toward becoming a more bike-friendly state. This goes hand-in-hand with the promotion of The Green Mountain State’s terrain as ideal for mountain bikers and tourists who enjoy scenic biking trails. For its cities, it has instituted a comprehensive Bicycle and Pedestrian Strategic Plan that incorporates measures for safer urban streets for cyclists and programs endorsing cycling as a greener commuting alternative.
Crucial to being a bike-friendly Vermont is the legislation that protects cyclists as they traverse the state’s roadways and trails. Here are the key responsibilities of Vermont bicycle riders as decreed by the Vermont Statutes, including bikers’ due rights when sharing the road with motor vehicles. Also outlined are the institutional protections that vulnerable bike users are entitled to, especially in the event of collisions that require legal measures.
Vermont Bicyclists’ Right to the Road
Bicyclists in Vermont are accorded all of the rights of motor vehicle drivers, which also means that they must adhere to the same rules of the road. Cyclists can be ticketed for violations of traffic laws, like running a red light or failing to yield to pedestrians, the same way other motorists are—but bike riders, ideally, should enjoy the same roadway courtesies, traffic safety regulations, and legal protections.
Key differences, of course, are applied to accommodate the dimensions and mechanical nature of bicycles, as well as the relatively more exposed state of cyclists on roadways. Vermont law considers cyclists “vulnerable users,” on account of how their vehicles lack built-in protection and how roadways, historically, were not initially designed with bike safety in mind.
Sharing the Road With Motor Vehicles
Bicycles on traffic lanes are protected from crowding, harassment, or other vehicles following too closely. This covers cars that approach or pass bicycles on the road at an unnecessary speed. Drivers in violation receive four points on their driving record, though these can be waived for $277. The law against harassment extends to projectiles on roads: Anyone caught spitting or throwing an object against a bicyclist receives four points, and waiving this costs $392.
Cars must also exercise care when tailing and passing vulnerable users, and a clearance of at least four feet is recommended before overtaking a bicycle. Vehicles cannot pass bicyclists if their movement interferes in some way with the bike’s operation. A violation of this nets a motorist a civil penalty that starts at $200.
Where to Ride Your Bicycle in Vermont
Bicyclists can ride on the same Vermont roadways as cars, but it is illegal for them to use limited-access highways like I-89 or I-91. Bikes can be used on the shoulders of partially controlled access highways, though traffic authorities have the prerogative of marking sections of these roads as unsafe for bikers.
Persons on bikes on public roads must ride as close to the right side of the roadway as is practicable, in the same direction as traffic, and be extra cautious as they near the normal wheel paths of motor vehicles. Bicyclists can ride on the left or a left lane in these exceptions:
If they need to pass another vulnerable user
If they are about to turn left at an intersection or into a driveway or private road
If they are approaching an intersection with a right-turn lane, but they are not turning right at the intersection
If they need to avoid hazards on the right side of the road, including parked cars and their door zones, road geometry like steep embankments, surface conditions that would affect bike operation, and pedestrians and animals.
<h3>Sidewalk Use for Vermont Bike Riders</h3>
Practiced riders tend to prefer using the traffic lane, but this makes them more visible to motor vehicle drivers, and some bikers may feel safer riding on sidewalks. As of this writing, no state law prohibits bicycles from riding on sidewalks, though cities have the option of issuing ordinances to do so.
In Burlington, bicyclists of all ages can ride on sidewalks across most of the city, with the exception of the Burlington City Center. Furthermore, in its Inner Fire District, riders under 16 cannot ride their bikes on sidewalks.
In the state capital, Montpelier, meanwhile, it is unlawful to ride a bicycle on the sidewalks of its Central Business District, though individuals are allowed to walk their bikes on the sidewalk. This applies to bikers of all ages.
If you are using a bike on a sidewalk, keep in mind that pedestrians have the right-of-way in these walkways. If you need to pass anyone on foot, it is good etiquette to give them a fair and friendly heads-up—like with a greeting or a “passing on your left” notice—that you are approaching. Pedestrians also have the right-of-way at crosswalks. But traffic enforcement recognizes that if you dismount your bike, you are a pedestrian.
Vermont Designated Bike Lanes
Vermont law considers paved road shoulders on public roadways as bike lanes and designates them for the preferential or exclusive use of bicycles. But some roads explicitly mark lanes as “bicycle routes” for bike travel, so keep an eye out for signs.
A bicycle path is a trail designated for bike use and designed for bicyclist safety. When it forms part of a highway, it is separated from motor vehicle traffic by a barrier or a marked open space. One example is the advocacy-led Cycle the City, a self-guiding loop that cuts through Lake Champlain or the Burlington Greenway, and landmarks like Champlain College neighborhoods and the University of Vermont. Another is the Burlington Greenway Bike Path, which cuts through Vermont’s most populous city and is used by recreation riders and commuters alike.
When riding on multi-use trails, bicyclists must also be mindful of other trail users, such as pedestrians, runners, other cyclists, and horses. The same protocols for using the right side of a trail and [human] pedestrians’ right-of-way apply.
Regulated Biking Etiquette for Vermont Cyclists
As mentioned above, some laws that apply to motor vehicles are also applicable to bicycles, with some necessary tweaks. Signaling turns, for example, is naturally different outside of a car. When turning left, a cyclist must extend their arm horizontally beforehand. When turning right, the cyclist must either extend their left arm upward or extend their right arm horizontally. Slowing down or stopping is signaled by the left arm being extended downward.
Of course, the law gives an allowance for unsafe conditions or if signaling jeopardizes the biker, such as when the signaling hand is needed to control a bike.
But generally, signaling turns as conspicuously as possible without interfering with the operation of a bike, allows car drivers to anticipate movements, thus helping prevent accidents.
As for riding side-by-side, bicyclists are prohibited from riding more than two abreast, and they must stay side-by-side on a single marked lane and keep disruption to other motorists to a minimum. Exceptions apply on bike paths or sections of a roadway that have been explicitly designated for bicycle use. Waiving the penalty is $100.
Bicyclist Safety Gear and Bike Equipment
There is no bicycle helmet law that applies statewide in Vermont, but it is still recommended to wear one as a safety measure. Montpelier advises cyclists to wear helmets (and parents of young bikers to make sure children’s helmets are not wobbly) to minimize injury; it has a guide for conducting helmet safety checks before riding. Local Motion, a statewide advocate partnered with the Vermont Agency of Transportation, has videos of safety tips and riding tricks for bikers, including making sure that a helmet fits well.
But bicycles themselves must be properly fitted with safety equipment. Bikes must be equipped with operational brakes that, when used, skid on dry and level pavement. It costs $76 to waive a penalty. Bikes are not allowed to use sirens, whistles, or any device that mimics the sirens of emergency vehicles.
Bikes used at nighttime—which the Vermont Statutes define as half an hour after sunset until half an hour before sunrise—must be equipped with a lamp. This must emit a white light that is visible from at least 500 feet to the front. Night-use bikes must also use a taillight or a lamp at the rear of the bike, or the bicyclist must wear a lamp that emits a flashing or steady red light visible at least 300 feet behind the vehicle. Reflectors may also be used on the bike or by the cyclist, and they should also be visible at least 300 feet to the rear. Waiving a penalty costs $76.
Is Vermont a No-Fault State for Bike Accidents?
No. Vermont is an at-fault state or “tort state” for bicycle accidents and motor vehicle crashes. This means that the party responsible for the collision is liable for paying for the injuries and property damage sustained by the victim. The victim will have to pursue damages against the at-fault party’s insurance company.
In cases of shared fault, bicycle accident victims also have the option of filing a personal injury lawsuit in court if they can prove that they were less than 51% responsible for the accident. Any compensation they receive will be commensurate with their share of the blame for the crash. If you are awarded $10,000 in a bicycle accident lawsuit, but the judge or jury finds you 10% responsible for the accident, then you’ll only receive $9,000.
How Much Can Someone Sue for a Bicycle Accident in Vermont?
Because compensation is computed depending on the severity of the accident and any damages a plaintiff can receive depend on their share of the responsibility for the crash, there is not really a set amount given.
But it may be helpful to know that Vermont does not set a cap or limit on the economic or non-economic damages that one can receive following a case. Economic damages cover quantifiable losses like medical bills and lost wages, while non-economic damages cover losses that are more difficult to put a number to, like pain and suffering. This is incredibly helpful for vulnerable users, like bicycle accident victims, as the injuries sustained in crashes tend to be catastrophic.
What Is Vermont’s Statute of Limitations for Bicycle Accidents?
Vermont has a three-year statute of limitations for personal injury cases, which is the deadline for bicycle accident victims to file a lawsuit against an at-fault party. The clock starts running on the day of the crash. Going past this deadline often means that a lawsuit will be time-barred, a victim’s case cannot be heard, and they will not be eligible to pursue compensation in court.
However, Vermont also follows the “discovery rule,” to account for how the effects of some injuries are not apparent immediately following an accident. The statute shifts to when the victim learns about the consequences of a crash.
Getting a case ready under the time limit, coupled with the complexities of proving fault in court, is a factor in how bicycle accident victims decide to seek the counsel of Vermont personal injury attorneys.
Legal Resources for Vermont Bicycle Accident Victims
The Vermont Bar Association runs a Lawyer Referral Service, which offers legal representation referrals for free. Plaintiffs must submit brief information regarding their legal needs, and the LRS will match them with a Vermont attorney who will then provide an initial 30-minute consultation that costs no more than $25.
For individuals who cannot afford legal fees, the Vermont State Bar maintains a list of agencies that source attorneys who provide pro bono services, or free legal representation. Potential plaintiffs must meet the economic qualifications set by the listed organizations.
Vermont Free Legal Answers is a virtual legal advice clinic in which qualifying users post civil legal questions at no cost, to be answered by licensed pro bono attorneys via email. Relevant questions and topics for bicycle accident victims are financial laws, consumer rights, and disability laws. The Free Legal Answers website network is maintained by the American Bar Association.
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