Bicycle Road Laws: Traffic Rules And Regulations Explained

In many parts of the around the world, there is a strange and ambiguous relationship between the road laws and cycling. Some of the worldwide regulations seem to come from a past era when bikes were called “velocipedes” and cars dominated the urban mobility.

And in fact, some of the road laws that regulate bicycle traffic are fragmented, confusing, and sometimes contradictory. As a consequence, cyclists have difficulties in riding comfortably without bumping into the complications of the bureaucratic language.

Yet, it is essential to clarify the aspects that regulate the relationship between the law and the cyclists.

As one might expect, road laws, and consequently the regulations cyclists must respect, vary from a country to another and sometimes even between the states or provinces of the same country. Let’s have an in-depth insight into the essential laws that cyclists must respect in the different parts of the world.

Bicycle Road Laws In The United States

In general lines, all 50 states of the United States of America require cyclists to follow the general road laws that regulate the traffic of all vehicles. Apart from this, some regulations change between the states, therefore you will have to make sure that you are complying with both federal and local laws.

The federal road laws to respect when cycling in the US are the following:

  • Use the right side of the road: in all 50 states, traffic participants must use the right-hand side of the road or highway.
  • Respect priorities: if you come to an intersection, you must respect the general road laws that regulate the priorities and, if you don’t have the right to pass first, you must stop and wait until the way is free.
  • Respect safety distances: because bicycles are treated just as the motorized vehicles, it means that everyone is entitled to use whatever space they need on the lane. On one hand, this means that you can take your own space and cycle in all peace. On the other hand, it means that you will also have to respect safety distances and surpass laws.
  • Change directions according to road laws: especially in agglomerated urban areas, roadways have multiple lanes that designate the direction and that allow you to take turns when necessary. As a cyclist, you will have to obey these laws and only use a lane to ride in the allowed direction. If you have to change lanes, you must respect the priority of the other traffic participants.
  • Speed positioning: according to federal laws, the slowest vehicles must use the right lane. You will be allowed to use the left lane when surpassing slower vehicles or if you have to change direction.
  • Lane positioning: the road law doesn’t only regulate the lawn you have to use, it also regulates the way you must position yourself in a lane. According to the law, if the lane is about 14 feet wide, you can share it with another vehicle and you must cycle next to the right edge of the lane. If the lane is less wide, you must cycle in the middle of the lane.

If these rules seem pretty straightforward, the local laws of each state can certainly complicate the things.

Due to the locals laws, from all 50 states, only two have equitable cycling regulations while in all the others the road laws for the cyclists are discriminatory, problematic or restrictive. Moreover, in 44 states cyclists are expected to use only the designated bike lanes.​

Bicycle Road Laws In Europe

Bicycle road laws

The various European states usually have different laws and regulations regarding the bicycle traffic, but there are some common laws between the states of the European Union.

In fact, according to the Vienna Convention, bikes are allowed in traffic only if they are equipped with a reflecting rear device that must be red, the bike must have a yellow or white light at the front as well as a red light at the rear, it must have an efficient braking system and a bell loud enough to be heard from a distance.​

On the pedals, there must be mounted orange reflectors, and two orange reflectors must also be present on each wheel. Mudguards are also a must regardless of the type of bike you choose to ride on.

Apart from these regulations, the cyclists must wear an homologated helmet, keep their hands on the handlebar at all times, while the transport of passengers is inadmissible unless otherwise stated.

In all European states excepting the United Kingdom, the traffic participants must use the right-hand side of the road.

In the United Kingdom, traffic participants must use the left-hand side of the road, therefore riding a bike might be more dangerous for those who are used to ride on the opposite side.​

The traffic of bicycles is forbidden on motorways and highways.​

Bicycle Road Laws In Australia

In Australia, just as in the United States, there are general road laws that apply to cyclists, then each state has a set of own rules and regulations. The main difference between the two nations is the more bike-friendly approach of Australia, where the various states tend to implement equitable cycling laws.

As a general rule, cyclists must follow the applicable road laws just as any other traffic participant. It is inadmissible for two cyclists to ride side by side or to hold on to a motorized vehicle in traffic.

A helmet must be worn at all times and the bike must have appropriate lights when cycling in low light or no light conditions. The presence on the bike of an efficient braking system and a loud bell are other mandatory requirements.

In some states, namely in Queensland, Southern Australia, Western Australia, Australian Capital Territory and Tasmania, cyclists are even allowed to ride on pedestrian paths, in a tentative of the states to promote cycling.

Just as in the United Kingdom, traffic participants use the left-hand side of the road, therefore make sure to take extra-precautions if you are visiting Australia from a right-hand side driving country.

  • July 23, 2017
  • Blog
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