Do Bicycles Have To Obey Traffic Laws – Bicycles In Motion

Do Bicycles Have To Obey Traffic Laws

Do Bicycles Have To Obey Traffic Laws

Bicyclists are often perceived as less likely to follow the rules of the road, but DMV statistics show that they are no more likely to break the laws than any other vehicle on the road.

Unfortunately, a car driver who violates traffic laws is less likely to end up injured or dead than a cyclist. Do bicycles have to obey traffic laws?

Bicycles must obey the same traffic laws on the road as motor vehicles to keep everyone safe because they are legally considered vehicles in most places. Bicyclists are required to go with the flow of traffic, yield to road signs, and obey all traffic controls and signals.

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Do Traffic Laws Apply To Bicycles

Most traffic laws apply to bicyclists. There are some practical differences, and it is up to the individual states and cities to determine what a bicycle can or cannot do.

However, as a general rule, when bikes are on the road, they are subject to most of the same rules as the other vehicles around them.

Bikes have to signal a stop or turn in most areas and stop at stop signs. Furthermore, a cyclist can be ticketed for drunk driving or driving under the influence.

Bicyclists Are Required To Travel In The Same Direction As Vehicles

Bicyclists are required to travel in the same direction as vehicles, but there are exceptions.

For example, a bicycle in a crosswalk can travel in a different direction from the traffic around it. There are often roadside bike trails separate from the simple bike lane, and these trails are multi-directional.

Likewise, bicycles on sidewalks may travel opposite the flow of traffic. Not every state or city allows bikes to use the sidewalk, but those that do tend not to have any specific wording in the laws stating the sidewalk has to flow with traffic.

As you can see, only bikes on the road need to travel in the same direction as vehicles.

Can You Run A Red Light On A Bicycle

You cannot run a red light on a bicycle. If you choose to do so, you can get a traffic ticket like any other vehicle.

Of course, some motorists tend to do so-called ‘rolling stops’ or otherwise run through red lights if no one is around to see it, but that doesn’t make it legal. More importantly, it’s hazardous for cyclists.

Students at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim did a study on cyclists who run red lights, and their findings were entirely unsurprising, though still alarming.

More than a quarter of all cyclists studied had run a red light. Of those who openly admitted it, many stated they’d do so if there were no traffic.

Other justifications for red-light running included staying ahead of traffic to be seen where the intersections aren’t set up for cyclists and descending hills at higher speeds.

Additionally, cyclists turning right tended to run lights along with those crossing narrower intersections.

No matter where you ride in the world, it’s vital to yield to traffic lights. Oncoming traffic certainly won’t care what reason you give if you don’t.

Do Bicycles Have The Right Of Way

Bicycles have no more right of way than any other vehicle. If a car in similar circumstances would yield, then so do cyclists.

The only time cars have to yield to bikes is when they would for other vehicles and to a limited extent in areas where ‘give a bike five feet’ is part of specific local legislation, which is rare.

Cyclists have to yield to pedestrians because they do have the right of way. Moreover, in many areas, bikes have to ride on the right-hand side except when turning left, which means they must yield to motorized traffic even further.

It’s essential to check your local laws to understand your rights as a cyclist since there are some variations depending on where you live.

Do Cyclists Have To Obey Traffic Laws

Cyclists do have to obey traffic laws. The long and short of it is that every state in the USA requires bicycles to follow the same traffic rules as other moving vehicles.

Anywhere you go, the laws for the road still apply, though they can be more restrictive.

There’s a difference in areas that limit bicycles more than other vehicles, such as laws that state you cannot occupy the whole lane unless you are going the same speed as other traffic.

Do Cyclists Have To Obey The Same Rules As Motorists

For all practical purposes, cyclists are the same as motorists. The fact that you use a human-powered vehicle does not change your rights or obligations when it comes to sharing the road with others.

Some minor differences exist, but they have mostly to do with safety. Cyclists are not subject to the same seatbelt laws because bikes don’t have seatbelts, but you may be required to wear a helmet instead.

Do Bicycles Have The Same Right To Use The Road As Cars

Bicycles only have the same right to use the road as cars some of the time. When traveling on city streets, a bike has the right to occupy the same space as a car in some areas.

Alternatively, in some states and cities, cyclists must stay near the shoulder except while turning left. Moreover, cars are allowed on interstate highways, but bicycles often are not.

What Happens If Bicyclists Breaks A Traffic Law

Like any motorist, a cyclist who breaks a traffic law is subject to penalties. You may get a ticket and pay a fine in some cases.

However, if you cause significant damages, you may find yourself in court. A cyclist who causes a car crash because they violated a traffic law could find themselves paying out of pocket for all the hospital bills and repairs since there’s no ‘bike insurance’ to help you out.

Surprisingly, many bicyclists are trying to stay safer when they break the law.

According to Planetizen, “The reason most bicyclists (71%) violate traffic rules is a bid for self-preservation. Other reasons include saving energy (56%) or saving time (50%) or attempting to increase one’s visibility (47%). In other words, the study found that a large number of bicyclists tend to break the law because they think it will keep them safer.”

Sadly, until (unless) the laws change, you are still liable for your actions when they violate traffic laws.

Helpful Tips To Know If Bicycles Have To Obey Traffic Laws

As a general rule, you should assume that you, as a cyclist, have to obey all traffic laws.

Moreover, there may be laws that only apply to bicycle riders in your area, and it is your legal responsibility to know and abide by those laws.

Here are more helpful tips to know if bicyclists have to obey traffic laws.

  • If you are in an accident and it is discovered that you were violating traffic laws, you could be in a lot of trouble. You will not receive any compensation for your injuries, and you could get fined, ticketed, or end up paying all the damages.
  • Sometimes there are practical differences in how bicycles must observe the laws. For example, a seatbelt would not be realistic to build into a bike, and it could be dangerous because it would prevent a cyclist from throwing themselves free from a wreck to crash more safely. So, while a bicycle is a vehicle in most areas, and those areas require vehicle passengers to wear seatbelts, bike riders don’t need seatbelts. Likewise, if a bicyclist is allowed to have passengers, they don’t need seatbelts either, even if other vehicle passengers are required to wear them. The tradeoff is that cyclists typically need helmets and motorists do not, and in some areas, bikes can’t legally have passengers.
  • Children on bicycles are still bicyclists. Although they are not capable of legally operating an adult vehicle, they are still subject to the laws of the road. In fact, some areas hold parents of a minor responsible if they break traffic laws on a bike. It’s essential to teach your kids about bike safety and traffic laws.

Final Thoughts

Bicycles are vehicles in the eyes of the law in most places. Even in areas where bikes are not technically vehicles by law, they still have to obey traffic laws.

Where you live, you may have slightly fewer rights and more obligations than you would in a car or truck, but it’s safe to assume that most traffic laws still apply.

Be smart. Wear a helmet, stay to the right, read your local bicycle laws, and follow them, so you don’t end up injured or in court.

Brian Smith

Brian is the founder of Bicycles In Motion and an avid cyclist for 17 years. On the weekends, he enjoys exploring new bike trails and countryside roads to enjoy the outdoors.

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