Bicycle safety has been a contentious subject in many cities. Residents have criticized local governments for building bicycle lanes and setting laws that fail to improve safety.
As a bicyclist, you must follow all the rules regardless of your opinion of the law. Bicycle laws can differ by municipality and are not always intuitive.
All bicyclists should know the regulations along their routes to prevent accidents. Though rare, getting a traffic ticket for breaking bike laws is possible. Read on to learn more about how bicycle laws and biking violations work.
Common Bicycle Traffic Rules
Like most traffic laws, cities and states enforce bicycle laws. Bicyclists mainly follow the same traffic laws that apply to motorists. You'll match the traffic flow and obey the traffic signals like a driver.
But, many areas of the country also have specific rules for riding bicycles on public roads. This section covers a few basic types of laws for biking.
Signaling Rules for Cyclists
Some bicycles have built-in turn signals. Otherwise, bicyclists must use hand signals when turning, changing lanes, or stopping.
Proper bike signals usually follow the pattern below:
- Right turn or right-side lane change: Right hand extended straight out
- Left turn or left-side lane change: Right hand bent upward 90 degrees at the elbow
- Stop: Right hand bent downward 90 degrees at the elbow
Reverse the directions if you must use your left hand to signal. For example, moving into a right traffic lane would mean bending your left arm 90 degrees upward.
Failure to signal while biking in traffic can result in a traffic citation, even if you are already in a turn lane. You could also risk causing a dangerous accident with a driver.
Bicycle Helmet and Headwear Laws
Most states and the District of Columbia require bicycle helmets to some degree. Helmets are usually necessary for children under the age of 16 or 18.
While no state laws require helmets for bicyclists of all ages, many local ordinances do. For example, Washington has no statewide helmet law, but many Washington cities require bicyclists of all ages to wear helmets.
Check local laws about biking with a headset before you ride with music or a podcast. Many laws ban headphones and earbuds while biking so you can hear cars and audible signals more easily.
Lights and Reflectors
Nearly all states require bikes to have red lights and red reflectors on the back. Bikes usually also need white lights and white reflectors on the front. Details vary by state and local laws. For example, your state may have specific instructions for the headlights' visibility distance.
Riding on Sidewalks
Local ordinances may allow bicycling on sidewalks or prohibit bikes on certain streets, such as limited-access highways. Bikers must always yield to pedestrians whether you're riding on the road or the sidewalk.
Bicyclists might use sidewalks until the law determines they are old enough to bike on the street safely. For example, cyclists can ride on sidewalks in San Francisco until they turn 13.
Specific rules may also apply to bike paths and trails. You should watch for pedestrians on designated bicycle paths to avoid collisions.
Running a Stop Sign or Stoplight
Like motor vehicles, bikes must reach a complete stop at a stop sign or red light. You must check all directions and yield to any drivers or cyclists with the right of way. Like a driver, you must also watch for pedestrians who might enter the crosswalk.
Bikes generally move slower than automobiles. Slowing down slightly at the intersection might seem practical and safe enough. Yet, pedaling or coasting through the stop could result in a citation.
Where To Ride on the Road
Your placement matters when riding a bike on the road. Some cities create dedicated bike lanes to separate bicyclists from pedestrians and regular traffic. Use the bike lane when available to follow the flow of traffic.
If there is no bike lane, bikers must stick close to the right edge of the roadway or the right shoulder. Riding to the side gives more space to faster cars overtaking you.
There are often a few exceptions to riding on the right side of the road. You typically may ride on the left side when turning left on a one-way street. You should also avoid surface hazards like ice on the shoulder by riding closer to the center of the road.
State Bicycle Laws
Bike laws vary across states. In some states, bikes are a type of motor vehicle. In other states, bikes are a non-motorized vehicle. This difference can affect whether cyclists are subject to the same laws, such as biking under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
For example, the California Vehicle Code states that anyone riding a bicycle on public streets or highways has the same rights and responsibilities as a driver. But bicyclists must also follow special rules for spacing their handlebars, carrying packages while biking, and other bike-specific scenarios.
Find bicycle laws for select U.S. states below:
Remember that bicycle laws often change according to local ordinances. If you plan to bike in a new city, check whether you need to follow new rules.
Traffic Tickets for Bicyclists
Even if you aren't driving a car, you can get a ticket for breaking the rules of the road. For example, it's possible to face penalties for biking while under the influence or breaking the speed limit.
Traffic tickets while riding a bicycle are like a moving violation involving an automobile. The ticket usually indicates whether the offense involved a bike, so it will not affect your automobile insurance. Other penalties can happen, depending on your situation.
If your traffic violation caused a crash, learn more about liability and negligence in biking accidents. Drivers aren't always at fault when cyclists break the law.
Legal Help for Bike Law Violations
Bicycle law violations can be time-consuming and costly. If you have questions about a recent bicycle-related citation you've received, speak to a local traffic ticket lawyer today.