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
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)
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
Source: 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. §3303 (2016)
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
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)
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)
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
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.
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.
According to The Code in Pennsylvania, when cyclists are riding between
sunset and sunrise, they must use lighting on their bike to make themselves
“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)
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)
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
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.
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
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
Source: 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. §3705 (2016)
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
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
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
Also from Penn DOT is a publication called “Pennsylvania Bicycle
Driver’s Manual”. The copyright on this publication is 1988.
It can be found