Common Bicycle Laws and Cyclist Responsibilities in the United States

Fortunately, most states, cities, and counties have traffic laws which define the rights and responsibilities of bicyclists. These laws exist to preserve cyclists’ safety, and promote cooperation between motorists and cyclists.

Bicycle laws are, for the most part, similar across the United States. To go through each state’s specific laws is beyond the scope of this discussion. Check your state traffic code for specifics. You can also check this helpful list of bike laws, organized by state.

Video of Cyclists’ Rights and Responsibilities

Most states require cyclists to follow the same rules of the road as motorists, and levy substantial fines and penalties when cyclists violate the law.

Knowing your local bicycle law is not just important for safety, but will serve you well if injured in an accident. With better understanding of the law, you’re better able to prove how and when a driver is liable.

When a motorist’s negligence results in injury to a bicyclist, the motorist is just as liable as if he collided with another car. The cyclist has equal access to the claim and lawsuit process, and may seek compensation for any resulting damages.

Common Bicycle Laws in the United States

The following are the most common bicycle traffic laws across the United States. To be absolutely sure you’re in compliance with all applicable state and local statutes, purchase a current copy of your state’s traffic laws. You can buy most states’ paperback versions for under $20.00. Some states even offer their updated traffic code free online.

Remember, if you are cycling on a roadway, you have the same rights as a motorist. You also have the same duty to abide by the applicable traffic laws.

  • You must ride your bicycle with, not against, the flow of traffic.
  • If cycling while intoxicated or otherwise impaired, you’re subject to arrest and impoundment of your bicycle (see a breakdown of your state BWI laws here).
  • Your bicycle must have a braking system.
  • If cycling at night, you must have lights and/or reflectors bright enough for motorists and other cyclists to see.
  • While on a bike, it’s illegal to be towed from the back of a car, streetcar, bus, or other motorized vehicle.
  • Each person riding on the bike with you must have a separate seat.
  • You must not carry any package or other object that impairs your ability to brake, turn, or stop the bicycle.
  • You can’t leave a bicycle on a sidewalk where it impedes pedestrian traffic or otherwise makes it dangerous for pedestrians to pass.
  • Depending on your age, you may be required by law to wear a helmet.
  • You may be restricted from cycling on highways or major roadways which pose an unreasonable risk to your safety.
  • You can’t wear headphones that inhibit your ability to hear emergency sirens and other vehicles.
  • Your state may require you to register your bicycle and mount tags on it (smaller, but similar to those on cars).
  • If you’re cycling at a speed less than the normal flow of traffic, you must stay as far to the right as reasonably possible, or in a designated bicycle lane, unless:
    • You must make a left turn across traffic. If so, you must exercise reasonable care before turning, which includes using proper hand signals. Those hand signals are the same as for drivers of cars without working turn signals.
    • You must avoid a road hazard, pedestrian, or other object, which makes it necessary to move away from the right side.
    • It becomes necessary to pass another cyclist.

Compensation for Bike Accident Injuries

Being injured in a bicycle accident entitles you to the same compensation as if you had been injured in your car. Compensation includes payment for your:

  • Medical and therapy bills
  • Out-of-pocket expenses (e.g. medications, bandages, crutches, etc.)
  • The cost to repair or replace your bicycle
  • Any wages you lost, or will lose, due to your injuries
  • Loss of consortium (marital intimacy)
  • Present and future pain and suffering

If you’ve suffered a serious injury in a bicycle car accident, and are seeking compensation, you should meet with a licensed personal injury attorney to discuss your case.

When the stakes are high, it’s not worth taking a chance and handling your bicycle accident claim yourself. An attorney has the experience to make sure you get a fair settlement for your damages.

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