The Riveting World of Cycling Legislation

Reading about legislation is generally only slightly more exciting than watching paint dry, but there are some pieces of knowledge that are important for all utility cyclists to understand to ride safely. First, I should point out that laws pertaining to cyclists on the road vary from state to state. As with automobile traffic codes, there is no federal regulation regarding bicycle traffic rules, but unlike traffic rules, which are largely uniform due to reciprocity for driving privileges and penalties by state, cycling laws tend to have greater variation from state to state.There are some generalities by which cyclists in all states should abide. While riding on public roads, bicyclists have all the general rights and duties of drivers of vehicles, according to the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA). This statement means that riders should stop at red lights and yield at yield signs, just as cars should. Cyclists are permitted to ride on most roads (unless specifically stated otherwise, as is the case on many highways), allowing that the cyclists ride with the flow of traffic and stay to the right side of the lane when possible. Also, there are areas where cycling on sidewalks is permitted and areas where this practice is prohibited, but in all instances, cyclists are to yield the right of way to pedestrians.

Image Credit: Bike Hugger
Image Credit: Bike Hugger
When it comes to the nuts and bolts of cycling laws, it is best to check with your local advocacy organization or Department of Transportation. For example, helmet laws are inconsistent from state to state; in DC and Maryland, helmets are required for riders under the age of 16. If you ride across a bridge from DC to Virginia, the age requirement for helmets drops to 14 years. There are also differing regulations for drivers in terms of passing cyclists, opening car doors, and other driver behavior. In Boise, Idaho and in DC, legislation has been passed that dictates that drivers must leave at least three feet of space when overtaking a cyclist (and that is by no means an exhaustive list, although there are many, many cities without this rule- be sure to check your local legislation). Finally, even bike light requirements vary from place to place. Most states require a front white light and either a rear red reflector or a rear red light, but some states have differing rules for where the light should be positioned, on which roads the lights are required, or what time of day the lights are mandatory.
Image Credit:
Image Credit:
The imperative fact for cyclists to remember is that the laws that do exist are created to protect the human-powered vehicles first. Following traffic signals and using proper illumination is helpful for drivers in automobiles, but it is critical for the safety of cyclists sharing the roads with these two and three ton vehicles.

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3 thoughts on “The Riveting World of Cycling Legislation”

  1. […] on a country road. It requires both heightened attention and a willingness to forget many of the rules of cycling. In their place, here are 10 things I„ve learned about daily commuting in the […]

  2. […] There is useful information on choosing a bike and the right gear, there is a discussion of rules of the road, and there are interesting pointers on handling your bicycle and avoidance maneuvers for a plethora […]

  3. […] instances, when a cyclist ventures out onto a road shared with cars, the rider is obligated to follow the same rules that cars follow.  Proponents of vehicular cycling encourage cyclists to ride confidently on the […]

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