[Bike Commuting 101 is a new series I'm starting to bring detailed and informative posts to bike commuters. I'm writing in hopes to learn something new, and also teach something new. Enjoy!]
In this post, you’ll find any questions you may have regarding the laws you need to follow as a bicyclist on the road! The rules of the road in this post are pulled mostly from laws in New Jersey and New York City, but are applicable in most other states as well.
At the bottom of this post you’ll find a full list of links to bike rules and regulations for each individual state.
If you have anything to add go right ahead and put it in the comments! Any rules specific to your State, or did you find something I’ve missed? Lets talk about it!
Definition of a Bicycle: “Bicycle” means any two wheeled vehicle having a rear drive which is solely human powered and having a seat height of 25 inches or greater when the seat is in the lowest adjustable position.
Bicycling Laws & Safety
It’s important to note right off of the bat, that in general, bikes are subject to all of the rights and duties of automobiles. That means–you’re allowed in the lane, but you also have to stop at traffic lights, yield and signal.
1. Rights and Duties of Bicyclists - Every person riding a bicycle on a roadway is granted all the rights and subject to all of the duties of the motor vehicle driver.
2. Ride with traffic - This certainly couldn’t be stressed enough, and may not be obvious to everyone. Ride on the right, along with traffic, not against it. Drivers are not looking for bicyclists coming towards them. Note: In NYC, if you’re riding on a 40-foot one way street, than you may ride on either side.
3. Obey All Traffic Signals - Stop sign? Yeild? Red, green, yellow light? Pay attention. You see that school bus stopping? That means you too.
4. Hand Signals - As bicyclists we must learn our hand signals and use them! The law requires signaling when making turns and stopping. You may use either hand/arm when making a right hand turn.
5. No More Than Two Abreast - Riding more than two bikes abreast is not allowed unless it’s within one lane and also not impeding the normal flow of traffic.
6. When Can You Move Left? - This is from the NJ Regulations and is applicable in most other states:
Every person riding a bicycle on a roadway shall ride as near to the right roadside as practicable exercising due care when passing a standing vehicle or one proceeding in the same direction.
A bicyclist may move left under any of the following conditions:
1) To make a left turn from a left turn lane or pocket;
2) To avoid debris, drains, or other hazardous conditions on the right;
3) To pass a slower moving vehicle;
4) To occupy any available lane when traveling at the same speed as other traffic;
5) To travel no more than two abreast when traffic is not impeded, but otherwise ride in single file.
7. Riding on Sidewalks - Bicycles are prohibited from riding on sidewalks in New York City unless signs designate otherwise, OR the bikes wheels are under 26″ AND the rider is 12 years of age or younger. This law varies from State to State and also within localities. Generally, staying off of sidewalks and using roadways is recommended.
8. What Road Can You Use? - You can bet your probably not allowed on most highways unless otherwise stated on a sign. You’re probably safer staying off of these roadways anyway and sticking to local roads. In New York City bicycles are prohibited on expressways, drives, highways, interstate routes, bridges and thruways, unless authorized by signs. You’ll find that some bridges do have separated bike lanes, and that bikes are slowly being incorporated into highways.
Use of Bike Lanes and Shoulders
1. Use of Bike Lanes - In New York when provided with a bike lane you must ride within the bike lane unless your safety is compromised or you’re making a turn. If something is in your bike lane, get out. But, you’ll find that this is not entirely universal, in Vermont, for example, bicyclists may ride in the road even when there is a bike lane provided!
2. Riding in the Shoulder - This one can be very important for those in New Jersey and people riding in suburban areas. I ride in the shoulder all the way to work, and technically in NJ that is illegal. But, another example from Vermont(they’re way ahead of us)–they consider all paved shoulders, bike lanes.
3. Vehicles in Bike Lanes - No parking, standing or stopping vehicles within or otherwise obstructing bike lanes.
1. Helmet Wear - In most states the laws say that anyone under 18 has to wear a helmet. In NJ helmets are required for those under 17, and in New York City the age is 14. Check helmet laws by state here.
2. Lights - You gotta get yourself some lights. In most states you’ll find laws like this one from NJ:
“When in use at nighttime every bicycle shall be equipped with:
1) A front headlamp emitting a white light visible from a distance of at least 500 feet to the front;
2) A rear lamp emitting a red light visible from a distance of at least 500 feet to the rear;
3) In addition to the red lamp a red reflector may be mounted on the rear.”
Laws again vary state by state, but you’ll need at least a front headlight and a rear red light or rear red reflector.
Some states require that you have reflective pedals or wear reflective ankle bands and have reflective wheels as well.
3. Bike Bells - An audible bell or other audible signal required. Whistles are not allowed.
4. Brakes - A bicycle must be equipped with a brake that can make wheels skid while stopping on dry, level, clean pavement.
1. Feet and Hands on Pedals and Handlebars - The rules state that a bicyclist should not ride without their feet on the pedals, and you also must have at least one hand on the handlebars at all times. You know how we like to do tricks in the streets, but according to the law, no tricks or “fancy” riding while biking with traffic.
2. Carrying another Person - You may only carry the number of people on your bike that it is intended for. To clarify, that means you can ride with the number of people that you have seats for, and you can’t post someone up on your handlebars.
3. Hitching on Vehicles is Prohibited - I know, darn it right? No clinging to taxis. You may not attach yourself to any cars or vehicles on the road.
4. Riding with Headphones - This is another law that you’ll see varies, but in New York City and many other places you are allowed to ride your bike with one headphone in your ear, not two.
5. Biking with Children - Children under one year of age may not ride bicycles. This includes in a baby seat attached to your bike. After that, you may ride with your child, and they must wear approved protective head gear.
Bicycling Laws, Rules, and Regulations by State
In this list you’ll find a full list of links to laws for each individual state. I tried to find pages for each state that had the most comprehensive laws, but also the easiest to read and navigate. Some were much harder to find than others. This took a lot of time to put together so if you find it useful consider sharing it!
Let us know if there is anything that I missed, or something specific to your state! Can’t wait to hear about it!