You know the rules of the road when you’re out riding. Maybe you even teach bike skills as a League Cycling Instructor. But do you know all the bicycling laws in your state?
Since coming to the League in August, I’ve reviewed more than 2,000 laws related to bicycling. From planning and taxation to funding and traffic, I dusted off and dug in to statutes and administrative codes in each and every state. By researching those primary sources and tapping into great resources compiled by bicycling organizations and agencies, I was able to pull together a comprehensive database of laws. Click here to view bike laws in your state.
So, while we’re all fans of the Bikeyface cartoon, I was particularly excited to see a recent post that does a great job of giving context to traffic laws.
Bicycles are generally vehicles that travel at a lower speed than other traffic and are required to ride as far to the right of the road as practicable. This cartoon illustrates some of the many exceptions to this general requirement:
- 40 states + Washington, D.C. have an exception for a left turn
- 49 states + D.C. have an exception for passing
- 36 states have an exception for avoiding obstacles, hazards or other road conditions (such as the door zone, mythical sea monsters, and slightly less than grand canyons)
Bike lanes can complicate the rules for sharing the road. Bicycles are generally not required to use bike lanes where they are provided and there are usually limitations when they are required. Only eight states require bicyclists to use bike lanes:
- 3 of those states do not allow any exceptions to the rule
- 4 of those states allow exceptions for all of the reasons mentioned above
- 1 state only allows an exception to avoid hazards
Cars generally must not stop in roadways and often are specifically prohibited from parking on the roadway side of parked vehicles or parking in a bicycle lane.
- 49 states + D.C. have a law that prohibits stopping in roadways
- The one state that lacks a statewide law enables local jurisdictions to make such laws
All states have some version of a safe passing law, requiring bicycles to be passed at a safe distance. In 21 states, a minimum distance of three feet is defined to be at least presumptively safe. Just because a state does not define a minimum safe passing distance does not change what is safe and all road users should share the road accordingly.
In addition to the general rule to ride right and the exceptions mentioned in the previous cartoon, in 28 states a bicyclist can use the full lane when the lane is too narrow to accommodate both a car and a bicycle. Regardless of whether a bicyclist is entitled to take the lane a car will still be governed by a safe passing law, preventing passes on narrow lanes as shown above.
These are great cartoons for spreading awareness about the traffic laws that affect bicyclists and drivers of motor vehicles. For better or worse, there is a great variety amongst states in the laws that govern this relationship as both parties attempt to share the road, which can lead to confusion and conflict. Greater awareness of the law by both parties should alleviate some of those issues and creative presentations like Bikeyface are shedding light on what can be a confusing issue.
Ken McLeodKen joined the League in 2012 after graduating from William & Mary School of Law. He is a licensed attorney in the state of Virginia. During law school he worked for a private law firm in Cambodia and the Washington State Department of Natural Resources. Prior to that, Ken worked at a law firm in Orange County and a legal services provider in Seattle. He graduated from Pomona College in 2007 with a BA in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. He began using his bike regularly after college and has been car-free since February 2012.
Legal Specialist, Advocacy Advance