The bicycle has withstood the test of time as both a reliable mode of transportation and recreational activity for countless Americans over the years.
Riding a bike can be great exercise, an environmentally-conscious way to travel, and simply fun to do!
However according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2018 there were 857 people killed in bicycle accidents in the United States. This is up from 840 in 2017, representing a 2.1% increase in fatalities.
Additionally, 45,000 bicyclists were injured in crashes in 2018. This is an increase of 6.3% from 2017. Furthermore, 88 percent of cyclist fatalities in 2018 were male.
With bicycle safety being so important, bicycle laws have been established to ensure the proper use of bicycle lanes and bicycle paths for cyclists.
Here are some of the most important bicycle laws to know before hopping on for your next ride.
Most Important Bicycle Laws
Ride On The Right-Hand Side Of The Road
In the United States, both drivers and cyclists are expected to drive on the right-hand side of the road. Not only does this prevent cyclists from riding against traffic, which is extremely dangerous, but ensures that they are predictable to other cyclists and drivers while out on the road.
Follow Traffic Signs And Signals
While most people may assume that traffic signs, lights, and signals on the road are specifically designed for drivers, that is not necessarily the case. Cyclists are also legally required to follow the same traffic signals to prevent an accident, just like vehicle drivers. This means stopping at stop signs and stop lights, just as if you were in a car.
These laws also include neighborhoods with cyclists expected to follow the speed limit, slow down near schools, and more. As noted by the injury lawyers at DuBois Law Group, there are already more than 800 bicycle-related deaths a year, and the number would be significantly larger if cyclists ignored traffic laws.
Use The Bike Lane When Available
Obviously, the bike lane is there specifically for cyclists, and to protect them against riding in vehicle traffic. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, about a quarter of the population has both bike paths and lanes available in the areas where they live or ride, and are therefore expected to utilize them.
Typically, the bike lane is a strip of marked road on the highway that is designated for cyclists that allow them to travel at their own safe pace and at least partially out of the way of cars.
Therefore, if there is a bike lane available, cyclists are expected to use it, because not doing so endangers pedestrians, drivers, and even other cyclists.
Important Bicycle Equipment
While plenty of Americans have at least one bicycle in their home, what most people don’t know is that there is certain equipment that makes a bike considered to be “street legal.”
For the most part, depending on where you live, the necessary bicycle equipment includes:
Although almost all bicycles can still be functioning without these important pieces of equipment, they can be priceless when riding in hazardous conditions, in the dark, and in countless dangerous situations. They are designed to protect the safety of the rider and others on the road and are a small price to pay for the benefits they provide.
Use The Designated Hand Signals
To inform other drivers what an individual intends to do, all cars are equipped with turn signals. Unfortunately, however, most bicycles are not fitted with this feature, which requires the rider to indicate to others on the road using a series of hand signals to indicate their moves in traffic. As described by the League of American Bicyclists, the most important hand signals are:
- Left turn: Fully extend your left arm out to the side
- Right turn: Fully extend your right arm out to the side or bend your left arm up at a right angle with your hand flat
- Slow down or stop: Extend your left arm out at a right angle with your hand open
Although these hand signals are not perfect, in many instances, it’s the best form of communication that a cyclist has on their bike. Not only is it important for cyclists to know these signals but for drivers sharing the road as well.
Give Way To Pedestrians
Much like cars must give the right of way to cyclists, cyclists in turn must give the right of way to pedestrians. While most pedestrians are usually on the lookout for cyclists to avoid being in their way, it is still the cyclist’s responsibility to watch for pedestrians.
This means that cyclists are also required to stop at crosswalks when there are pedestrians crossing and be vigilant about the possibility of pedestrians stepping out into the street.
Don’t Drink And Ride
Most people are well aware that drinking and driving is a good way to hurt yourself or someone else and is highly illegal. Nevertheless, the same applies when riding a bicycle.
In many states, it is unlawful to ride a bike while under the influence of any alcohol or drugs, and if stopped by officials, you can be issued a citation for cycling under the influence or CUI.
So, the next time you’ve had a few too many and think about biking home, you might want to reconsider.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some of the most commonly asked bicycle laws questions:
Is it legal to ride a bicycle on the sidewalk?
The legality of riding a bicycle on the sidewalk depends on the location. In general, most states do not allow bicycles to be ridden on sidewalks. However, check with your local laws to be sure since some jurisdictions may have different regulations.
Are bicycle riders obligated to use bike lanes when available?
Yes, bicycle riders are obligated to use bike lanes when available. This is because bicycle lanes are designed to keep cyclists safe from the traffic flow.
Are bicycle riders allowed to drive on highways?
No, bicycle riders are not allowed to drive on highways. This is because bicycle riders do not have the necessary equipment to safely navigate highways and could be putting themselves at risk by riding in high-speed traffic.
All in all, the majority of cycling laws in the United States can be understood as being common sense.
Treat your bicycle like a vehicle, follow all traffic laws, stay in the designated lane, use proper hand signals, have the appropriate gear, and keep a lookout for yourself and others.
These laws are effective and help keep cyclists and other members of the public safe, all while ensuring that cycling is still an effective and enjoyable mode of transportation.