Traffic laws for bicycles
March 1, 2004 3:28 PM   Subscribe

Are bicyclists supposed to obey the same 'rules of the road' that cars do? Such as: stopping for stop signs, red lights, not going up on sidewalks...etc.
posted by msacheson to Travel & Transportation (30 answers total)
Yes, but you you can walk your bike on the sidewalk. Also, if the streets/sidewalks aren't busy, you can get away with a lot on your bike that you couldn't do with your car.
posted by dogwelder at 3:33 PM on March 1, 2004

Here's how things work in Chicago. I would assume that's it's much the same elsewhere.
posted by Johnny Assay at 3:35 PM on March 1, 2004

You mean by law? This probably varries slightly region by region.

This guy says yes, and he's generally seens as an authority on the subject.
posted by daver at 3:36 PM on March 1, 2004

Certainly in the UK, yes. As a cyclist who actually follows the rules of the road, those who disregard them irritate me intensely. I can't help but think that any motorist who sees them breaking the rules with such disregard will have less respect for all cyclists.
posted by squealy at 3:36 PM on March 1, 2004

I ride according to the rules for operating a motor vehicle and I believe if you check with state department's of transportation they will say the same thing. However, I often break the law (although never in heavy urban traffic). In fact, I will sit dumbly at a red light far longer than most cyclists. I will never ride on a sidewalk and prefer to stay off "rail trails" and the like simply because the speed and awareness differences present there are more of a danger than me on my bike on the road.
posted by Dick Paris at 3:38 PM on March 1, 2004


Many cyclists I ride with often roll through stop signs (after looking both ways I trust).

I was with someone who did this as a cop came up behind us. The officer hit his lights, pulled him over, and asked to see his drivers license.

My friend protested saying this had nothing to do with driving a car but the cop threatened to arrest him if he didn't produce it. So he did.

He got a ticket. He also got 3 points on his license and his insurance premiums got a surcharge.

More on point, we are often subject to laws specifically aimed at cyclist, e.g. riding single file only (its a $250 fine in the sleepy hudson town of Piermont if you ride side-by-side) and of course Helmet laws.
posted by Fupped Duck at 3:38 PM on March 1, 2004

It's probably a good thing that I'm getting a JRun error trying to link to the Clear Channel DJ advocating violence against bicyclists thread, right crash davis?
posted by anathema at 3:48 PM on March 1, 2004

Check the vehicle code in your state, but as a rule, bikes have the same road rights and responsibilities as motor vehicles, with a few special provisos.
posted by adamrice at 4:04 PM on March 1, 2004

It can actually be dangerous to ride yer bike on the sidewalk. Cars moving in the same direction often forget to check the sidewalk before making a right turn, whereas they are more likely to notice a bicyclist on the street. Cruising down the sidewalk at a fast clip can be a quick way to get mashed.

Then again, as most hardcore cyclists say Re: accidents, there's a nice insurance settlement waiting for you. That is, if it isn't negated by the fact that you were riding on the sidewalk instead of the street (it probably isn't.)
posted by Shane at 4:10 PM on March 1, 2004

Goddamn, YES bicyclists should follow the rules for vehicles. With one caveat: don't do so when it will endanger your life.

But as a general rule of thumb, you're far safer following the laws than breaking them. Stop at the freakin' stop signs, people: it's not difficult to do a freestand! That one time you mistakenly don't pay attention and breeze through a sign may be the one time some cager does the same thing, and you're going to lose that match.

The cyclists that piss me off the most are those that ride against the traffic. Good god, do they not understand the laws of physics? Their speed at 15kmh into a car at 50kmh is going to be a 65kmh collision. If they were riding with the traffic, it'd only be 35kmh... about one-quarter the energy!

I rode bike a lot of years. Yes, cagers are dangerous. But riding like a buffoon is equally dangerous, and makes you fully culpable in my books.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:27 PM on March 1, 2004

By law a bike is a vehicle and needs to obey all the laws that cars do, at least in California.

Personally, I was always one of those assholes that rode through stop signs after looking both ways, but I justified it in that it kept me away from cars (I could ride faster through a series of stop signs, so they weren't constantly breathing down my back on the narrow streets). There's a guy in SF that has a page dedicated to changing stop signs to yeild signs for bicycles, which is basically what I used to do.

I generally follow the law now. On small streets I'll slow down, look both ways (a rolling stop, if you will), on larger streets I just follow the law.
posted by mathowie at 4:29 PM on March 1, 2004

what's a cager, five fresh fish?
posted by mathowie at 4:32 PM on March 1, 2004

So sayeth Urbandictionary.
posted by Danelope at 4:36 PM on March 1, 2004

By law a bike is a vehicle and needs to obey all the laws that cars do, at least in California.

This will most definitely vary by jurisdiction. Last year, a cyclist had a collision with my wife's parked car. She was driving down our street, caught in a sudden downpour, and she lost control right in front of our house and took the driver-side mirror off the car. I was standing at the front door looking out right when it happened. I ran outside to make sure she was OK (she was) and to assess the damage. I had my wife call 911 to report the accident. When the police showed up, they talked to the girl and took a Polaroid but the officer refused to fill out an accident report. When I asked why, he said that she was a pedestrian and no "accident" took place. I pressed the issue saying I wanted to have an official report made in case I had to sue in small claims for the repair. I also said the same thing I remember learning in school, that a bicycle operating on a public roadway was considered a "vehicle" and was obligated to the same laws. He called his supervisor and was told the same thing. Pedestrian, not an "accident" so I couldn't have a report. Luckily it never went to court as the girl's parents (she was 16 IIRC) admitted responsibility and paid for the mirror (which I installed myself--wasn't trying to profit from this in any way).
posted by AstroGuy at 4:45 PM on March 1, 2004

As a cyclist who actually follows the rules of the road, those who disregard them irritate me intensely.

Those who, like me, have been pulled over by cops for riding in the road and told to ride on the sidewalk (Orange Park, FL), tend to be rather more wary of irritating the police than J. Random Mefite. (And yes, I'm pretty sure that the cops didn't know what the hell they were talking about.)
posted by IshmaelGraves at 5:07 PM on March 1, 2004

As one who attended a bike campus for college, I always try to give bikes a little extra care on the road.

However, idiotic Florida cops aside, bikes need to stay off the sidewalks. Cars can't see you behind those bushes/newspaper bins/trashcans right before you zip into the intersections. You're also a danger to the pedestrians and handicapped, for whom the sidewalk was built.

Cyclists also need to stop at stop signs and lights. If there are no cars in sight, fine. But when you roll right through in front of cars, you run the risk of getting hit by someone who thinks (perhaps correctly) they have the right of way.

Finally, if you're going to ride at night: GET A FUCKING LIGHT. It was the law in Davis. I have way too many gray hairs from dickheads rolling around in the dark, wearing black.
posted by scarabic at 5:45 PM on March 1, 2004

In these parts (Athens GA) bicycles are legally vehicles just like cars, when they're in the car lanes. (Outside of the downtown area where there are a lot of sidewalk cafes, bikes are allowed to ride on the sidewalks. Also, increasingly, there are marked bike lanes.) Of course what the law says and what people actually do are almost unrelated. As for me, I walk whenever I possibly can. If God had meant for us to roll he would have made us with wheels.
posted by jfuller at 7:03 PM on March 1, 2004

Goddamn, YES bicyclists should follow the rules for vehicles. With one caveat: don't do so when it will endanger your life.

i have to second this. there are some places were it is NOT SAFE for you to follow the rules -- places where other drivers aren't going to treat you as a vehicle, don't understand you can take a lane for lefts, no real shoulder to ride on and fast traffic that isn't giving you right of way -- it's these places that I have no problem riding on the sidewalk, or biking in any way necessary to keep me out of trouble.

other than that, i'm all for the rules -- predictable bicyclists should make for confident and predictable car drivers.
posted by fishfucker at 8:34 PM on March 1, 2004

Yes, in Ontario (likely all of Canada).

There's a couple more articles on it from there (try the laws link).

No, I have seen almost no cyclists here follow any road rules (explains why they keep becoming road pizza).

Did you know you are SUPPOSED TO SIGNAL YOUR TURNS on a bike? A lot don't. A primer is here.

Also, cyclists here are required to have their bike lit at night (just like a car) and must wear helmets. Sidewalk riding is illegal, but walking your bike is ok (so would be walking a motorbike, if you are so inclined).

For your safety and mine, rid yourself of the flashing lights, they're illegal and make stupid drivers at night think you're a policeman.

Get a bell. Required by law.

Last but not least: In most places you are required by law to allow faster traffic to pass. This doesn't matter if you are driving a shitbox Lada, a Concrete Truck, or a bike. I am assured by a local truck driver such a law is enforced in Ontario. So obey it. Or be squashed (has happened more than enough times on bridges). Your choice.
posted by shepd at 9:00 PM on March 1, 2004

it's these places that I have no problem riding on the sidewalk, or biking in any way necessary to keep me out of trouble.

fishfucker speaks the truth. It's ok to break the law when it will keep you alive. For me, riding home across San Francisco required a small stretch on the sidewalk, but I still had to ride on Fell street for a couple blocks before I hit the bike lanes in the panhandle where the sidewalk was too busy (by the DMV). It's one of the busiest streets in San Francisco, pretty much like a freeway during post-work hours and it's no fun and totally unsafe to be riding in a lane of traffic, essentially requiring those drivers to slow down to 15mph and drive behind me (there's no bike lane on the street).
posted by mathowie at 9:19 PM on March 1, 2004

I had a friend die recently, riding his bike to work in S. F. It's hard to argue with riding on the sidewalk if it's going to keep you from being killed.

But, please keep in mind: just because the cars on the street aren't going to nail you, doesn't mean a car won't.

The reason sidewalks are so dangerous is because of cars crossing the sidewalk either via intersections or driveways. A summary of the relevant study is here. Basically, riding on the sidewalk is about 2 times more dangerous than on the roadway, or much higher if you're riding against traffic on the sidewalk. Same goes for riding against traffic in the roadway.

Ride the side walk for sure if you'll live because of it, but ride c a r e f u l l y. It's really not safe.

*returns soapbox to rightful position in laundry room*
posted by daver at 9:38 PM on March 1, 2004

i entirely agree with fishfucker: cyclist behaviour ought to be predictable and the best way for behaviour to be predictable is to follow a given set of rules (in this case, the rules of the road).

i also find it infuriating when cyclists completely disregard traffic safety rules - it gives all of us a bad name.

while cyclists should not ride on the road if it is too dangerous, instead of riding on the sidewalk i would suggest either finding an alternate route or, if the distance is not too great, walking your bike on the sidewalk. of couse, this is only practical if the distance is shortish. i try (emphasis on try) to walk my bike where i can't legally ride.
posted by lumiere at 11:15 PM on March 1, 2004

OK, I'll admit to cycling on the pavement if it's dangerous to cycle on the road, for 100 yards of a five mile journey, and rather than try to negotiate a right turn across three lanes of fast moving traffic each way. I guess I really should push the damn thing if it's on the pavement though.

I thought the idea of flashing lights was that they were more noticable than most solid beam lights? Any car driver who can mistake my tiny flashing LEDs for a police lights must have such bad eyesight they shouldn't be driving anyway.
posted by squealy at 12:52 AM on March 2, 2004

I disagree that it's alright to ride on the pavement if it's safer than riding on the road. It might be safer for you the cyclist, but I was hit while walking my 5 year old to school a week ago by a cyclist who told me "the road is too dangerous". A bicycle moving at 15 mph is still a danger to a five year old pedestrian.

Of course, scoot onto the pavement to save your life. But, if the road is too dangerous because of alrger faster-moving vehicles, walk your bike on the pavement - don't arrogantly become a larger, faster vehicle amongst the pedestrians.
posted by Pericles at 2:41 AM on March 2, 2004

Signaling in the UK is different from that used in Utah (as linked above). I was intrigued by the cyclist stop sign in Utah which seemed more like a message to back off.

There are very specific rules for cyclist behaviour in the UK's highway code, including that cyclists MUST NOT ride on the pavement. The code also lays down some guidance for other road users with regard to cyclists.
posted by biffa at 4:49 AM on March 2, 2004

What I recall from my university days, in Florida you are considered a vehicle if you bike on the road, and motor-vehicles must yield to you (Ha!). If you bike on the sidewalk, you are considered a pedestrian, but must yield to anyone walking/running. Bicyclist are also supposed to give an audible signal before passing a pedestrian (bell/voice/squeeky horn).
posted by piskycritter at 5:10 AM on March 2, 2004

I try and obey road rules as much as possible, because I think that makes me more predictable to motorists (hasn't stopped me getting hit tho). It also makes me more invisible (I think) so I try and wear noticeable clothing, especially at night. Unless I'm in a tearing hurry I always give motorists the benefit of the doubt bas regards stupidity, cuz 1% of them *will* do something stupid. I live in Boulder, CO, though, which has a great network of bike routes/paths; they're so successful (i.e. full) that there's periodic arguments between different users - pedestrians and dog walkers, joggers/runners, bikers, roller-bladers - on these paths (generally I must admit between some bikers and bladers who go way too fast).
posted by carter at 7:05 AM on March 2, 2004

Bikes on sidewalks: Your risk of getting hit by a car when riding on a sidewalk is something like 4x greater than when on the road. Bikes on sidewalks are legall required (in the USA) to dismount and walk across intersections (this is what's called "pedestrian-mode cycling"). And of course, sidewalks just aren't designed for vehicles that can easily travel 15 mph. Obviously there's a big difference between riding on a well-used sidewalk in a residential neighborhood and an unused one along a highway; I'd consider the latter to be acceptable if the roadway is really inhospitable, but the former just doesn't make sense.

Blinky lights: U.S. law is a little funny. It is legal to have a blinky light on your person, not on your vehicle. I'd expect that cops don't know this or much care.

Blocking traffic: You aren't just blocking traffic if you are moving slower than motor vehicles: there are legal definitions of blocking traffic. In Texas, there must be only one travel lane in your direction and there must be at least 4 (5?) vehicles backed up behind you before you are blocking traffic. If that happens, you are required to pull over and let them pass as soon as it's safe.

Keeping right: although you are obliged to keep right, you aren't obliged to keep farther right than you feel is safe. If there's debris, occasional parked cars, etc, next to the curb, it is your right--and a good idea--to be farther out in traffic.
posted by adamrice at 7:26 AM on March 2, 2004

Not really a legal issue, but if it's not safe to be on a narrow shoulder with cars passing, take the lane.
posted by callmejay at 8:59 AM on March 2, 2004

Here in Guelph we have bike lanes on the main University-to-Downtown road. Even with these bike lanes, most cyclists pedal on the sidewalk. Every time I see it I want to say something, but then I'm afraid I'll look like a crotchety old woman.
posted by nprigoda at 9:30 AM on March 2, 2004

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