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Is a Bicycle Considered a Car or a Pedestrian?
For anyone living in a city where foot and bike traffic are common, the question is often asked: is a bicycle a car or a pedestrian?
Is a Bicycle Considered a Car or a Pedestrian?For anyone living in a city where foot and bike traffic are common, the question is often asked: is a bicycle a car or a pedestrian?
More accurately, does someone riding a bike have the right to ride on the street, the sidewalk, or both? Do they have to obey helmet and traffic laws like motorcyclists? Do they have the same rights as pedestrians in crosswalks? If they can be treated as both a pedestrian and a car, can they switch statuses to suit their whims?
Not a Uniform Question
Unfortunately, not every jurisdiction handles bike riders the same way. But, most states generally observe an interesting hybrid view of bicyclists. When riding on the street, a bicycle is treated much the same as a car. They are generally required to observe all traffic signs, signal turns, and have certain safety features like helmets, reflectors, and/or lights.
When riding on the sidewalk, however, the bike becomes a pedestrian. If in a crosswalk, drivers are supposed to yield to bicyclists. Bicycles are generally allowed to use sidewalks along side those on foot (unless signs state otherwise), though there may be some areas with lanes specified for foot versus bike traffic.
Unfortunately, laws vary not just from one state to another, but also for different municipalities. As a result, it is important to take a moment to become acquainted with your state and local laws regarding the operation of a bicycle. Interestingly, it appears in most states that one can switch from being a pedestrian to a vehicle simply by moving from a sidewalk or bike path to a roadway.
Special Laws for Bicycles
While bicycles are basically both car and pedestrian (based on where they are used), most states also have laws specifically related to the bicyclist. For example, it is not uncommon to require those operating a bicycle on a roadway to keep to the far right of the lane at all times unless preparing to turn left. Many states require minors to wear helmets even though adults may not have a similar obligation. And, if one chooses to operate a bicycle at night, many jurisdictions require safety lights to alert drivers and pedestrians of the bicycle's presence. Many areas also require a bicyclist to announce him- or herself before overtaking other pedestrians, generally with a warning such as “on your left.”
Unlike cars and trucks, however, bicyclists generally do not need a driver's license or insurance. Most police are fairly lax about enforcing traffic laws against bicyclists (often uncertain of the laws, themselves). And, for purposes of liability when a car hits someone riding a bicycle, most states treat the cyclist as a pedestrian rather than a fellow driver.
Violations When Biking
The real question for many bike riders is what penalties they might face if they break a traffic law while riding a bicycle. For example, given the ample visibility, most bicyclists routinely ignore stop signs and traffic lights, even while riding in the road, believing that these devices do not apply to them. This is generally an incorrect assertion and one that can earn the rider a ticket. Because the bike is considered a motor vehicle while on the road, it is subject to the same laws and penalties. Thus, ignoring a stop sign could actually lead to a ticket and points against a rider's driver's license (if they have one). It is also technically possible to speed, operate the bicycle under the influence or while impaired (DUI or DWI), or break a host of other traffic laws, any of which could lead to fines, points against the license, or even jail.
Find Out More
If you are an avid bicyclist, have a child who rides a bike to school, have had an accident involving a bicycle, or just want to satisfy your own curiosity, the best way to learn about laws affecting bike riders in your area is to contact an attorney. You can refer to HG.org to find a list of attorneys, organized by location and practice area, that will be able to assist you.
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On the Road
Cyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as motorists. For example, cyclists must:
Yield to pedestrians
Stop for stop signs Signal turns
Travel with the flow of traffic.
In the eyes of the law, if you are riding a bicycle on the road, you are considered a vehicle on the road.
When you dismount and walk alongside your bicycle, you are considered a pedestrian and have the same rights as a pedestrian.
Where Cycling is Permitted
Road Signs and Traffic Signals
Intersections and Turns
Sharing the Road
Drivers must be extra careful when sharing the road with vulnerable road users like bicycle riders. Learn the proper driving techniques with DriversEd.com.
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Home / Driving Information / Sharing the Road with Others / Bicycles
As bicycles are considered vehicles, bicyclists on public streets have the same rights and responsibilities as automobile drivers. They should ride in the same direction as other traffic.
Drivers must be careful when driving close to cyclists. Drivers should not drive too closely to the bicycle when passing. A collision may result. Cyclists should normally ride in a straight line as near to the right curb or edge of the roadway as practical.
Drivers should look carefully for cyclists before turning right and merge safely toward the curb or into the bike lane. Do not pass a cyclist just before making a right turn. Merge first, and then turn.
Before passing a cyclist in a narrow traffic lane, wait until the traffic is clear in the opposite lane, and then change lanes to pass the cyclist. Do not attempt to squeeze past the cyclist. Every bicyclist should always wear an ANSI-approved bicycle helmet when riding, which greatly improves the chances of surviving a collision.
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