The Rules of the Road that Cyclists Need to Know

Marc Lindsay
by Marc Lindsay
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The Rules of the Road that Cyclists Need to Know

Depending on what state you live in, laws like safe passing distance for vehicles and helmet requirements can vary. (Note: We firmly stand by always wearing a helmet.) However, there are a few basic rules for operating a bicycle on the roadway all cyclists are expected to abide by.  

Follow these rules of the road to stay safe and obey local traffic laws.

RULE: YIELD TO PEDESTRIANS OR OTHER VEHICLES ALREADY ON THE ROADWAY

When approaching vehicles or other bicycles that are stopped or traveling at slower speed ahead of you, you must yield until it is safe to pass. Like all other vehicles on the road, cyclists on bikes are required to yield to pedestrians.

RULE: RIDE IN THE SAME DIRECTION AS THE FLOW OF TRAFFIC

In almost all instances, cyclists are required to follow the same rules as vehicles. When riding on the road, bicycles are required to travel in the same direction as the flow of traffic. For those of us living in the United States, this means always riding on the right side as well as utilizing the right side of the lane as much as possible unless it is unsafe to do so.

RULE: DON’T RIDE ON THE SIDEWALK

While this is a law in most states, it’s a good idea to follow this rule regardless of where you live. When you ride a bike on the sidewalk, it can create a dangerous situation for those on foot while also making you less visible to turning vehicles on the road. In fact, a bicycle-car accident is more likely to occur when you ride on the sidewalk as opposed to operating your bike on the road.

RULE: OBEY ALL TRAFFIC SIGNALS AND SIGNS

Rolling through stop signs, proceeding through a red light or entering a crosswalk when pedestrians are present are all traffic violations whether you’re in a car or on a bike. To be safe and follow the rules of the road, you should always obey all traffic signals and other signs on the roadway just as you would when operating any other vehicle.

RULE: YIELD BEFORE TURNING OR MOVING TO THE LEFT SIDE OF YOUR LANE OF TRAVEL

There are times when you will need to move to the left side of the lane to avoid an obstacle or to make a left-handed turn. When doing so, it’s important to always yield to approaching vehicles moving at a higher rate of travel to avoid a collision. Hold a straight line and proceed to claim your space on the road once it is safe.

RULE: ALWAYS USE HAND SIGNALS

Most states require cyclists to alert others on the road of their intentions. While vehicles are equipped with blinkers and brake lights, cyclists must use hand signals to let those around them know when they’re making a turn, stop or lateral movement in the roadway. This helps keep you safe as a cyclist and avoids an unnecessary collision.

OTHER LAWS THAT VARY BY STATE

In addition to the basic bicycle driving rules outlined above, your individual state will have laws for cyclists that you will be required to follow. These include:

  • Helmet laws: This includes age requirements for helmet use and requirements for operators and passengers.
  • Safe passing laws: This refers to the required distance vehicles must provide cyclists when passing in the same direction on a roadway.
  • Bicycle lanes: Some states require cyclists to use a bicycle lane when available if you are traveling at a speed less than vehicle traffic. Special circumstances that allow cyclists to move outside of a bicycle lane will apply.
  • Cycling under the influence: Most states have laws that prohibit operating a bicycle while intoxicated.
  • Brakes: Some states require all bikes to be equipped with braking systems that allow the operator to stop when necessary.
  • Traveling to the far right: You may be required to use the far right of the lane at all times (not the full lane) unless it is unsafe to do so.

For more specific laws according to your state of residence, use this guide provided by the The League of American Bicyclists.


READ MORE > HELMETS: THE FORGOTTEN ACCESSORY


GEAR TO KEEP YOU SAFE

In some states you’ll need to purchase additional gear to ensure the safety of everyone on the road. But whether or not these items are required by law, it’s a good idea to use the following gear whenever you ride your bicycle:

  • Lights and reflectors: When riding at night, state laws may require rear reflectors and a white light on the front of your bicycle to improve visibility.
  • Helmets: Protecting your head in a collision should be priority number 1 no matter how long or short your trip is.
  • High-visibility clothing: While not required by law, reflective clothing can help you be seen when daylight is limited.
  • Bike bell: If you’re a commuter, a bike bell can alert others who might be blocking your lane of travel.
  • Helmet mirrors: For anyone who travels in urban areas, a helmet mirror helps to avoid dangerous situations when you might not be able to turn your head to look over your shoulder for oncoming traffic.

About the Author

Marc Lindsay
Marc Lindsay

Marc is a freelance writer based in Scottsdale, Arizona. He holds a master’s degree in writing from Portland State University and is a certified physical therapy assistant. An avid cyclist and runner of over 20 years, Marc contributes to LAVA, Competitor and Phoenix Outdoor magazines. He is the former cycling editor for Active.com.

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