Understanding Bike Laws in Your Area Advocating for the Injured with Tireless Representation

Bike Laws

Throughout the years, bicyclists and advocates have worked to shape the laws of the road in order to make streets safter for bicyclists and drivers alike. At Piscitello Law, we strive to provide the bike community with the information they need to better understand traffic laws. Learn about some of the key cycling laws in Pennsylavnia, Philadelphia and New Jersey below


  • Pennsylvania Bike Laws

    COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA CYCLING LAWS

    Laws and regulations governing the rights and responsibilities of cyclists may be challenging at times to interpret and understand. In some circumstances, there are conflicting rules between city and state levels. It’s also important to know that police officers may have varied knowledge of cycling rules and may interpret these rules incorrectly at the scene of a crash. As a cyclist in Pennsylvania, you should become familiar with some key laws – which may help to prevent a future crash. However, knowing your rights does not mean that you should engage in verbal arguments with auto drivers or enforcement. These clashes can lead to serious road rage and bodily injury. If a driver violates your rights, take a photo of the license plate and follow up immediately with a police officer and/or Bike Law PA.

    SOURCE OF COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA LAWS

    The information below comes from the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, Title 75, Vehicles, which is also known as “The Vehicle Code.” There are several relevant chapters within the Code noted below, including Chapter 31 “General Provisions;” Chapter 33 “Rules of the Road;” Chapter 35 “Special Vehicles & Pedestrians;” Chapter 37 “Miscellaneous Provisions;” and Chapter 39 Driving after Drinking/Using. Below, we highlight several key laws in the state of Pennsylvania. Please note that this list is not comprehensive.

    Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Laws – Key Laws from Title 75

    Highlight from Chapter 1: General Provisions

    1. Vehicle and Pedalcycle Definitions

    In Pennsylvania bicycles are considered vehicles according to the statute that defines vehicles and pedalcycles noted below:

    Vehicle Definition: “Every device in, upon or by which any person of property is or may be transported or drawn upon a highway…”

    Pedacycle Definition: “A vehicle propelled solely by human-powered pedal or a pedalcyle with electric assist.”

    Source: 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. §102 (2016)

    Highlights from Chapter 33: Rules of the Road

    1. Where to Ride – the Right Side of the Road

    Pennsylvania requires that a bicyclist, traveling at a speed less than the speed of traffic, “shall be driven in the right-hand lane then available for traffic, or as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway”, except:

    When overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction or

    When preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into an alley, private road or driveway.

    This requirement does not apply to:

    A bicycle using any portion of an available roadway due to unsafe surface conditions.

    A bicycle using a roadway that has a width of not more than one lane of traffic in each direction.

    Source: 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. §3301 (2016)

    Noteworthy:

    AFRAP

    As far to the right as practicable (AFRAP) is the key phrase which seems to appear in some form or another in many state laws governing where to ride. The underlying issue with this language is that the person who interprets “practicable” may likely be different to the cyclist, auto driver and police officer. Additionally, the law allows cyclists to use “available roadway” due to “unsafe” surface conditions. Again, the question remains who may make these determinations. Colorado’s state law eliminates the confusion by granting the decision-making authority to the cyclist; their law states that a cyclist shall ride “…far enough to the right “as judged safe by the bicyclists…”

    Note that the language that the requirement to stay “as far to the right as practicable” doesn’t apply where the road has a width of “not more than one lane of traffic in each direction”. It is lawful to ride in the middle of a street, for example, where there is no shoulder or where the shoulder is taken up by parking spaces.

    2. Safe Passing Laws – 4-foot zone

    Pennsylvania requires that the driver of a motor vehicle overtaking a bicycle traveling in the same direction “…shall pass to the left of the pedalcycle within not less than four feet at a careful and prudent reduced speed.”

    Source: 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. §3303 (2016)

    Noteworthy:

    Pennsylvania is the ONLY state which has a four-feet passing law on the books under all circumstances. North Carolina and South Dakota include four and six feet passing laws when certain conditions are met. Pennsylvania is also one of a handful of states that specifically require the passing vehicle to REDUCE SPEED. More than half of our states have laws citing specific three foot passing zones. Unfortunately, 19 states still have Safe Passing Laws which remain unclear and poorly defined. Some examples are listed below.

    North Carolina requires drivers to allow at least two feet and if in a non- passing zone, then a minimum of four feet or completely entering left lane of the highway;

    South Dakota requires drivers to allow a minimum of three feet if the speed limit is 35 mph or less, and require drivers to allow a minimum of six feet when posted speed limit is greater than 35 mph;

    28 States designate three feet passing laws; and

    19 states designate words, such as “Due Care,” “Reasonably Clear,” “Safe Distance.” These ambiguous words create confusion on the part of both car and cyclist.

    To see where your state stacks up against others in safe passing laws, look here and here.

    3. Turning Vehicles

    Pennsylvania specifically requires vehicles turning right to not cross the path of a moving cyclist riding along the right edge of a roadway.

    “No turn by a driver of a motor vehicle shall interfere with a pedalcycle proceeding straight while operating in accordance with Chapter 35 (relating to special vehicles and pedestrians).”

    Source: 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. §3331 (2016)

    Noteworthy:

    Drivers almost never look in their right mirror when turning right. This section specifically protects a cyclist from a right turning vehicle.

    4. Distracted Driving Laws

    Pennsylvania currently has the following law aimed at distracted driving, subject to limited exception:

    “No driver shall operate a motor vehicle on a roadway while using an interactive wireless communications device to send, read or write a text-based communication while the vehicle is in motion.” Source: 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. §3316 (2016)

    Noteworthy:

    Create a Viable “Textalizer”

    The real question behind a Distracted Driving law is that of enforcement; specifically, what tools are available in the field for law enforcement to assess and document whether a driver was using a cell phone prior or during a crash. In 2016, New York Senator Lieberman proposed a law known as “Evan’s Law” to create a “textalizer” tool which law enforcement may use at the scene. Bike Law PA reported on this innovative proposed law, read more here.

    Change the penalties

    The Pennsylvania law on Distracted Driving includes a penalty which is woefully inappropriate as either a consequence or a deterrent. The Code states that the penalty for violating this law, if convicted includes a fine of $50. The state should consider a fine of $5,000 as a penalty to distracted drivers as crash events between car and bike often result in significant bodily injuries to the cyclist.

    Highlights from Chapter 35 – Special Vehicles & Pedestrians

    1. Traffic laws apply to bicycles

    In Pennsylvania traffic laws for vehicles apply to bicycles.

    “Every person riding a bicycle upon a roadway shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this title, except as to special provisions…” This includes the requirement to signal turns by hand, including stopping. (3335-3336).

    Source: 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. §3501 (2016)

    2. Riding on roadways and bike paths

    This section states that bikes may be ridden on a shoulder of a highway, traveling in the same direction as traffic. It also allows for not more than two riders abreast except on bike paths or roads set aside for bikes.

    “A pedalcycle may be operated on the shoulder of a highway and shall be operated in the same direction as required of vehicles operated on the roadway. All turns shall be made in accordance with section 3331 (relating to required position and method of turning.”

    Source: 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. §3505 (a) (2016)

    “Persons riding pedalcycles upon a roadway shall not ride more than two abreast except on paths or parts of roadways set aside for the exclusive use of pedalcycles.”

    Source: 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. §3505 (e) (2016)

    The requirement for a cyclist to use available bicycle lanes/paths was removed from the statutes in 1998. However, we do encourage use of designated bike lanes/paths for safety.

    3. Lamps

    According to The Code in Pennsylvania, when cyclists are riding between sunset and sunrise, they must use lighting on their bike to make themselves visible. Specifically:

    “Every pedalcycle when in use between sunset and sunrise shall be equipped on the front with a lamp which emits a beam of white light intended to illuminate the pedalcycle operator’s path from a distance of at least 500 feet to the front, a red reflector facing to the rear which shall be visible at least 500 feet to the rear and an amber reflector on each side.”

    Source: 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. §3507 (2016)

    Noteworthy

    The code permits supplementation of the required front light and rear reflector with a front white flashing light and a rear red flashing light. It is noteworthy that technically having a rear red light does not eliminate the requirement of a rear reflector, although it is doubtful that this would be enforced.

    4. Sidewalk Riding

    Pennsylvania allows bicycles to operate on sidewalks subject to the following rules:

    A person riding a bicycle upon a sidewalk or bike path used by pedestrians “…shall yield the right-of-way to any pedestrian and shall give an audible signal before overtaking and passing a pedestrian.”

    A person shall not ride a bicycle upon a sidewalk in a business district unless permitted by official traffic-control devices, or when a usable bike-only lane is available adjacent to the sidewalk.

    Source: 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. §3508 (2016)

    5. Helmet Law & Civil Actions

    Pennsylvania requires that any person under the age of 12 riding a bicycle, as an operator or passenger, must wear a protective bicycle helmet.

    However, in no event shall the failure to wear a required helmet be used as evidence in a trial of any civil action; nor shall any jury in a civil action be instructed regarding violations of the law requiring helmets; nor shall failure to use a helmet be considered as contributory negligence.

    Source: 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. §3510 (2016)

    Noteworthy:

    California, Delaware and New Mexico are the most progressive states in this area as their laws require helmets for cyclist’s younger than 18. New Jersey is a close second, requiring helmets for cyclists under 17. Twelve other states put the required helmet age at under 16, while seven states place the age between 12 and 15. 28 states are completely silent on the issue of helmets.

    To see where your state stacks up against others in helmet, look here.

    We strongly encourage the use of a helmet because of its ability to prevent serious head injuries if you are involved in a bicycle crash.

    6. E-Bikes

    Pennsylvania restricts the use of e-bikes to those over 16.

    Source: 75 Pa.C.S. § 3514 (2016)

    7. Headphones/earbuds prohibited

    Section 3314 of the vehicle code specifically prohibits the use of headphones by vehicle operators. This has been held by caselaw to apply to a motorcyclist wearing earbuds under his helmet. The above quoted section making all laws applicable to drivers of vehicles applicable to cyclists means that the common practice of riding with earbuds is technically illegal in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

    Highlights from Chapter 37 – Miscellaneous Provisions

    Dooring law

    Pennsylvania requires that “No person open any door on a motor vehicle unless and until it is reasonably safe to do so and can be done without interfering with the movement of other traffic…” In addition, no person shall leave a door open on a side of a vehicle available to moving traffic for a period- of- time longer than necessary to load or unload passengers.

    Source: 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. §3705 (2016)

    Noteworthy

    Promote the “Dutch Reach”

    In addition to a state’s Dooring Law, we should consider adopting a driving practice which can become a mandatory part of our driving education system. That’s what the Dutch did in creating the “Dutch Reach." The practice forces the driver (or passenger) to pivot their body towards the street—which automatically points their vision to where an oncoming bicycle may be coming. This practice would address and reduce the root cause of most door injuries: the motorist's failure to check behind them before exiting their vehicle towards the street. Bike Law PA discussed the merits of the Dutch practice in the article here.

    Highlights from Chapter 38 Driving Under the Influence

    Bicycling Under the Influence

    As we all know as motor vehicle drivers, Pennsylvania's Vehicle Code prohibits driving vehicles while intoxicated or after using controlled substances. The Code also states that bicycles are defined as vehicles and therefore this same law is applied to bicyclists. Bicycles should not be operated while the rider is under the influence of alcohol or other controlled substances.

    Source: 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. §3802 (2016)

    More Resources on PA State Cycling Laws

    Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Vehicle Code: Title 75

    Bike Law University is an online resource developed by the Bicycle League of America which provides side by side comparisons of how each state lines up on several key cycling related laws. This comparative format is particularly helpful to advocacy groups and advocates looking to improve their state’s position on a particular- law, by pointing to other more progressive states. You can visit their page here.

    Also from Penn DOT is a publication called “Pennsylvania Bicycle Driver’s Manual”. The copyright on this publication is 1988. It can be found here.  

  • Philadelphia Bike Laws

    Philadelphia Bike Laws

    The Philadelphia Code & Home Rule Charter as of 7.31.17

    Title 12, The Traffic Code

    Chapter 12-800. Bicycle Regulations and Penalties

    A. Rights & Obligations of Cyclist
    These sections state that cyclists have the same rights and obligations as motor vehicle drivers. Therefore, cyclists must follow the rules of the road, just as is they were operating a car. Cyclists must obey traffic signals, stop signs, posted signs, and must signal when making turns. They are obligated to yield to pedestrians and must travel in the same direction as traffic.

    “Every person riding a bicycle upon a highway shall have all the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to an operator under the provisions of this Title and The Vehicle Code.
    Source: Philadelphia Code Chapter § 12-802


    “Whenever signs are erected indicating that no right or left turn is permitted, or that a turn in the opposite direction is permitted only between certain hours, no person operating a bicycle shall disobey the direction of any such signs except where such person dismounts from the bicycle to make such turn, in which even such person shall have the privileges and responsibilities of a pedestrian.”

    Source: Philadelphia Code Chapter § 12-802

    B. How to Ride a Bike

    One Bike Seat per person:

    Cyclists must ride on a permanent bike seat and carry only yourself (i.e, do not carry passenger on handle bars).

    “No bicycle shall be used to carry more persons at one time than the number of seats permanently affixed to such bicycle”

    Source: Philadelphia Code Chapter § 12-803(2)

    Ride No More than Two Abreast

    “Persons riding bicycles upon a roadway shall ride no more than two abreast except on paths or parts of roadways set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles.”

    Source: Philadelphia Code Chapter § 12-804

    At Least One hand on handlebars

    Riders should not carry anything that prevents them from keeping at least one hand on the handlebars.

    “No person operating a bicycle shall carry any package, bundle, or article which prevents the rider from keeping at least one hand upon the handle bars.”

    Source: Philadelphia Code Chapter § 12-806

    Don’t use Headphones

    If you want to listen to any music, news, etc. while riding a bicycle, you must not use headphones to listen to it. Doing so can cause a cyclist to hear their surroundings and put them in a dangerous situation.

    No person shall operate a bicycle on a street or highway while wearing headphones connected to an audio device.”

    Source: Philadelphia Code Chapter § 12-812

    C. Equipment: Brakes & Bells

    Riders must have good working brakes and shall have an audible warning device. Although lights on the front, back and sides of bikes are not required in Philadelphia, we strongly recommend their use, in addition to a helmet.

    “No person shall operate a bicycle unless it is equipped with a bell or other device capable of giving a signal audible for a distance of at least 100 feet, except that a bicycle shall not be equipped with nor shall any person use upon a bicycle any siren or whistle.”

    Source: Philadelphia Code Chapter § 12-809

    D. Where to Ride a Bike and Park:

    Bicycle Lanes/Bicycle Paths

    While the Philadelphia Code does not require the use of bicycle lanes/paths if available, we recommend that you do. This ensures the safe flow of traffic and reduces the likelihood of a vehicle trying to squeeze by to get around bicycles.

    Riding on Sidewalks

    Only children under the age of 12 are permitted to ride on sidewalks, except where otherwise permitted. However, children under 12 are not permitted to ride on sidewalks in business districts. This differs from state law, which permits the use of sidewalks by any cyclist, except when in a business district, when use by anyone is permitted.

    The Code goes on to clarify that “…Whenever any person is riding a bicycle upon a sidewalk, such person shall yield the right-of-way to any pedestrian and shall give audible signal before overtaking and passing such pedestrian.”

    Source: Philadelphia Code Chapter § 12-808

    Riding on Sidewalks in Fairmount Park

    The Code includes a separate clause related to riding on sidewalks in Fairmount Park and will allow that sidewalk riding as per the Commission’s rules.

    “In areas under the jurisdiction of the Fairmount Park Commission, riding bicycles on sidewalks and foot paths may be permitted when authorized by regulations of the commission.”

    Source: Philadelphia Code Chapter § 12-808

    Parking your Bike

    Use bike racks when available and do not obstruct traffic. If you do, you can be subject to a parking ticket.

    “No person shall park a bicycle upon a street other than (a) against the curb, upon the sidewalk, or in an area on the street designated by the department for bicycle parking, in a rack to support the bicycle; or (b) against a building or at the curb, in such a manner as to afford the least obstruction to pedestrian traffic.”

    Source: Philadelphia Code Chapter § 12-807

    E. Penalties

    If you are found violating any of the regulations while riding your bike, you can be fined up to $75 in addition to the cost of prosecution.

    Source: Philadelphia Code Chapter § 12-811

    MORE INFORMATION: You can view The Philadelphia Traffic Code here

  • New Jersey Bike Laws

    New Jersey Bike Laws

    Definition
    “Bicycle” means any two-wheeled vehicle having a rear drive which is solely human powered and having a seat height of 25 inches or greater when the seat is in the lowest adjustable position. Source § 39:4-14.5

    New Jersey Helmet Law

    In New Jersey, anyone under 17 years of age that rides a bicycle or is a passenger on a bicycle, or is towed as a passenger by a bicycle must wear a safety helmet. All helmets must be properly fastened and fitted.

    The definition of bicycle with reference to the helmet legislation is a vehicle with two wheels propelled solely by human power and having pedals, handle bars and a saddle-like seat. The term shall include a bicycle for two or more persons having seats and corresponding pedals arranged in tandem.

    Helmet Standards:

    • Bicycle helmets must meet the federal standards developed by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) effective March 10, 1999 that ensure the best head protection and strong chin straps to keep the helmet in place during a fall or collision.
    • Also acceptable are helmets meeting the Snell Memorial Foundation’s 1990 Standard for Protection Headgear.

    Exemptions from the Helmet Requirement:

    • Persons who operate or ride a bicycle (as a driver or a passenger) on a roadway closed to motor traffic
    • Persons riding on a trail, route, course, boardwalk, path or area set aside only for the use of bicycles

    These exemptions do not apply if the areas of operation are adjacent to a roadway and not separated from motor vehicle traffic by a barrier that prevents the bicycle from entering the roadway. Bicyclists or passengers operating in an area where helmets are not required who need to cross a road or highway should walk with the bicycle.

    Penalties for Failing to Wear a Helmet:

    • Initial violators of the helmet law will receive warnings.
    • For minors, the parent or legal guardian may be fined a maximum of $25 for the 1st offense and a maximum of $100 for subsequent offense(s), if lack of parental supervision contributed to the offense. Source § 39:4-10.1

    Lights & Reflectors on Bicycles

    When in use at nighttime every bicycle shall be equipped with: 1) A front headlamp emitting a white light visible from a distance of at least 500 feet to the front; 2) A rear lamp emitting a red light visible from a distance of at least 500 feet to the rear; 3) In addition to the red lamp a red reflector may be mounted on the rear. Source § 39:4-10

    Brakes

    A bicycle must be equipped with a brake that can make wheels skid while stopping on dry, level, clean pavement. Source § 39:4-11.1

    Audible Signal

    A bicycle must be equipped with a bell or other audible device that can be heard at least 100 feet away, but not a siren or whistle. Source: NJ Rev Stat § 39:4-11 (2013)

    Feet and Hands on Pedals and Handlebars; Carrying Another Person

    Bicyclists should not drive the bicycle with feet removed from the pedals, or with both hands removed from the handlebars, nor practice any trick or fancy driving in a street. Limit passengers to only the number the bicycle is designed and equipped to carry (the number of seats it has). Source § 39:4-12

    Hitching on Vehicle Prohibited

    No person riding a bicycle shall attach themselves to any streetcar or vehicle. Source: NJ Rev Stat § 39:4-14 (2013) 

    Rights and Duties of Persons on Bicycles

    Every person riding a bicycle on a roadway is granted all the rights and subject to all the duties of the motor vehicle driver. Regulations applicable to bicycles apply whenever a bicycle is operated upon any highway or upon any path set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles subject to those exceptions stated herein. Source § 39:4-14.1

    Operating Regulations: Keep to right; Exceptions; Single File

    Every person riding a bicycle on a roadway shall ride as near to the right roadside as practicable exercising due care when passing a standing vehicle or one proceeding in the same direction. A bicyclist may move left under any of the following conditions: 1) To make a left turn from a left turn lane or pocket; 2) To avoid debris, drains, or other hazardous conditions on the right; 3) To pass a slower moving vehicle; 4) To occupy any available lane when traveling at the same speed as other traffic; 5) To travel no more than two abreast when traffic is not impeded, but otherwise ride in single file. Every person riding a bicycle shall ride in the same direction as vehicular traffic.

    In New Jersey, the law states a bicyclist must obey all state and local automobile driving laws. A parent may be held responsible for the child’s violation of any traffic law. Source § 39:4-14.2; § 39:4-10.11

    Areas Not Expressly Addressed by NJ State Laws:

    • Riding on Sidewalk - Although New Jersey does not prohibit riding a bicycle on a sidewalk, some municipalities have passed ordinances prohibiting bicycle traffic on certain sidewalks (and is usually posted) In New Jersey, sidewalks are for pedestrians and bike traffic can lead to crashes. Except for very young cyclists under parental supervision, sidewalks are not for bicycling.
    • Using Headphones - Current NJ state law does not expressly prohibit riding a bike with headphones.
    • Safe Passing Laws - Current NJ law does not have a safe passing law as it relates to bicycles.

    For More information on New Jersey Laws related to Cycling: