10 bike laws you might be breakingOffbeat

If you have ever ridden a bicycle, you probably broke the law without even being aware of it.

My Experience

In an attempt to be more eco-conscious, I have been using my bike as my main mode of transportation. Previously, I used my bike as a form of recreation; using it as a means of fitness as I traveled throughout my State Park. Out of ignorance and feelings of invincibility, I never paid much attention to rules and regulations. One day while riding my bike on the shoulder of the road, I almost was hit by a motorcycle. It was obvious to me that the motorcyclist was shaken and apologetic as he continued on and I was left to wonder: what would have happened if I was struck? Who was at fault? I was riding with traffic, but with no helmet. The motorcyclist clearly was riding in the shoulder instead of the lane. I then started to investigate the bike laws of New York State. Was I required to wear a helmet? Was I supposed to be riding with or against traffic?

The Rules and Regulations of New York State
Within New York State, several bike laws are universal, but some vary by county or village. Most laws, I had no idea existed and I am sure many others are not aware as well. If bicycles were treated as a mode of transportation rather than recreation, would there be less accidents? These are the thoughts that crossed my mind as a I read the following laws:

1.  Use of earphones while driving or riding a bicycle

“It shall be unlawful to operate upon any public highway in this state a motor vehicle, limited use automobile, limited use motorcycle or bicycle while the operator is wearing more than one earphone attached to a radio, tape player or other audio device.”
  • Don’t wear headphones on both ears.
2.  Effect of regulation

“(a) The parent of any child and the guardian of any ward shall not authorize or knowingly permit any such child or ward to violate any of the provisions of this article.
(b) These regulations applicable to bicycles or to in-line skates shall apply whenever a bicycle is, or in-line skates are, operated upon any highway, upon private roads open to public motor vehicle traffic and upon any path set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles, or in-line skates, or both.”

  • Parents/Guardians if you see your child/ward violating these regulations… put an end to it. Cyclists these regulations apply to you when you are on a highway, private road, and bike paths.
3. Clinging to vehicles

“1. No person riding upon any bicycle, coaster, in-line skates, roller skates, sled or toy vehicle shall attach the same or himself to any vehicle being operated upon a roadway.
2. No person shall ride on or attach himself to the outside of any vehicle being operated upon a roadway.”

  • Do not hang on to the back of any type of vehicle while it is being operated, even if it looks fun, don’t do it.
4.  Riding on roadways, shoulders, bicycle or in-line skates lanes and bicycle or in-line skates paths

“a) Upon all roadways, any bicycle or in-line skates shall be driven either on a usable bicycle or in-line skates lane or, if a usable bicycle or in-line skates lane has not been provided, near the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway or upon a usable right-hand shoulder in such a manner as to prevent undue interference with the flow of traffic except when preparing for a left turn or when reasonably necessary to avoid conditions that would make it unsafe to continue along near the right-hand curb or edge. Conditions to be taken into consideration include, but are not limited to, fixed or moving objects, vehicles, bicycles, in-line skates, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards or traffic lanes too narrow for a bicycle or person on in-line skates and a vehicle to travel safely side-by-side within the lane.”

  • Ride in the designated bike lane, if there are no bike lanes, ride on the right shoulder of the road. When making a left turn or if you are unable to ride on the right shoulder, it is appropriate to move out the way towards the left.
“(b) Persons riding bicycles or skating or gliding on in-line skates upon a roadway shall not ride more than two abreast. Persons riding bicycles or skating or gliding on in-line skates upon a shoulder, bicycle or in-line skates lane, or bicycle or in-line skates path, intended for the use of bicycles or in-line skates may ride two or more abreast if sufficient space is available, except that when passing a vehicle, bicycle or person on in-line skates, or pedestrian, standing or proceeding along such shoulder, lane or path, persons riding bicycles or skating or gliding on in-line skates shall ride, skate, or glide single file. Persons riding bicycles or skating or gliding on in-line skates upon a roadway shall ride, skate, or glide single file when being overtaken by a vehicle.”

  • You cannot ride side by side on the road unless it is a path designated specifically for bikers or on the shoulder- then you can ride side by side (2 or more) if there is room. However, if a vehicle, biker, skater, or pedestrian is approaching/standing then you must ride single file.
“(c) Any person operating a bicycle or skating or gliding on in-line skates who is entering the roadway from a private road, driveway, alley or over a curb shall come to a full stop before entering the roadway.”

  • If you are about to enter a road from a private street, driveway, alley, or curb, you have to fully stop before entering the road.
5. Carrying articles

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

  • Don’t carry anything unless you can keep at least one hand on the handle bars.
6.   Lamps and other equipment on bicycles.

“(a) Every bicycle when in use during the period from one-half hour after sunset to one-half hour before sunrise shall be equipped with a lamp on the front which shall emit a white light visible during hours of darkness from a distance of at least five hundred feet to the front and with a red or amber light visible to the rear for three hundred feet.”

  • 30 minutes after sunset to 30 minutes before sunrise you need a white light on the front of your bike and a red/orange light on the back of your bike.
“(b) 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 one hundred feet, except that a bicycle shall not be equipped with nor shall any person use upon a bicycle any siren or whistle.”

  • You can’t ride your bike unless you have a bell or other type of sound device that is not a siren or whistle.
“(c) Every bicycle shall be equipped with a brake which will enable the operator to make the braked wheels skid on dry, level, clean pavement.”

  • Your bike needs a working brake system.
“(d) Every new bicycle shall be equipped with reflective tires or, alternately a reflex reflector mounted on the spokes of each wheel, said tires and reflectors to be of types approved by the commissioner. The reflex reflector mounted on the front wheel shall be colorless or amber, and the reflex reflector mounted on the rear wheel shall be colorless or red.”

  • Bikes need to have reflectors on the tires or wheels. If the reflector is on the front wheel it needs to be orange or colorless, if it is on the back wheel it needs to be colorless or red.
7.  Method of giving hand and arm signals by bicyclists.

“All signals herein required to be given by bicyclists by hand and arm shall be given in the following manner and such signals shall indicate as follows:
1. Left turn. Left hand and arm extended horizontally.
2. Right turn. Left hand and arm extended upward or right hand and arm extended horizontally.
3. Stop or decrease speed. Left hand and arm extended downward.”

  • Use your hands/arms to signal if you are turning right, left, stopping or decreasing speed.
8.   Passengers on bicycles under one year of age prohibited

“Passengers and operators under fourteen years of age to wear protective headgear. 1. No person operating a bicycle shall allow a person who is under one year of age to ride as a passenger on a bicycle nor shall such person be carried in a pack fastened to the operator”

  • If you are under 14 years of age you need to wear a helmet (some counties require all ages to wear helmet or under 17yrs- check your local government). A child who is under one years of age cannot ride on a bike or be carried in a pack by the rider.
“2. No person operating a bicycle shall allow a person one or more years of age and less than five years of age to ride as a passenger on a bicycle unless:
(a) such passenger is wearing a helmet
(b) such passenger is placed in a separate seat attached to the bicycle and such seat shall have adequate provision for retaining the passenger in place and for protecting the passenger from the moving parts of the bicycle.”

  • Cyclist cannot have children between 1 and 5 years of age ride as a passenger on the bike unless they have a helmet and are placed in a separate seat attached to the bike.
9.  Traffic laws apply to persons riding bicycles or skating or gliding on in-line skates

“Every person riding a bicycle or skating or gliding on in-line skates 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 regulations in this article and except as to those provisions of this title which by their nature can have no application.”

  • Bikers must follow all the traffic laws unless there are provisions already stated in the biking laws.
10.  Riding on bicycles

“(a) A person propelling a bicycle shall not ride other than upon or astride a permanent and regular seat attached thereto, nor shall he ride with his feet removed from the pedals.
(b) No bicycle shall be used to carry more persons at one time than the number for which it is designed and equipped.”
  • You can only ride on the bicycle seat, not on the handle bars or any other place on the bike. You must also ride with both feet on the pedals.
  • You can only ride one person to a bike at a time, unless it was designed to carry more.
Final Thoughts

As you can see there are several laws in place to protect bikers, but many of these are not followed by bikers themselves nor drivers nor law enforcement. Perhaps when individuals are learning how to bike they should take a bikers education course sponsored by the local government.  Overall, there is a need for individuals to be aware of these safety laws.


As of October 2010, these laws were current, but I have read that some in NY government are pushing for a bill that would make it mandatory that bikes be registered, have a license plate, and be inspected yearly. Whatever policies are put into place, it is important to stay up to date on all regulations. These laws are relevant to New York, but your own state might have similar laws. Visit your official state website to find out more information on Biking Laws.



Safe NY
NY State Department of Transportation




An urban planning PhD student finding peace in creating a balance between the mind, body, soul, & environment.

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Photo Credit: NY Department of Transportation

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