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Washington, DC Bike Laws 101

Some people think riding a bike is as easy as…well… riding a bike. But there are quite a few rules and laws bike riders face every day, whether they’re taking a casual ride, biking strenuously for exercise, or commuting to work. As DC Bike Lawyers, let us guide you through some of Washington, DC’s bike laws…some you’re probably well aware of; others may catch you by surprise!

Can a cyclist legally ride between lanes?

Surprisingly, yes. Under DC bike law, cyclists may “overtake and pass other vehicles on the left or right side, staying in the same lane as the overtaken vehicle, or changing to a different lane, or riding off the roadway, as necessary to pass with safety.” This is one reason why it is imperative that motorists pay attention to bike riders.

Do cyclists have to ride in designated bike lanes?

Not in DC. Cyclists are free to ride in any lane of traffic.

Is it legal for cyclists to ride on the sidewalk?

Yes, as long as it’s not within Washington DC’s Central Business District (bounded by 2nd Street NE and SE, D Street SE and SW, 14th Street SW and NW, Constitution Ave NW, 23rd Street NW, and Massachusetts Ave NW). However, cyclists must yield the right-of-way to pedestrians on sidewalks.

Speaking of right-of-way…

Who has the right-of-way in a crosswalk?

Cyclists are essentially considered pedestrians in this sense, meaning that cars must yield the right-of-way to cyclists in a crosswalk as they are crossing a street, whether there’s a traffic signal or not. Cyclists, however, must yield the right-of-way to pedestrians in a crosswalk.

If a cyclist is “doored,” who’s at fault?

The owner of the vehicle would be at fault in this case, as he or she must make sure no traffic (whether bike, pedestrian, or vehicle) is oncoming before opening a door.

Is it legal to talk on a cell phone while riding a bike?

Legal, yes. Safe, no.

Am I legally required to wear a helmet when cycling?

If you’re under 16, yes, you are legally required to wear a helmet when riding a bike in DC. While it’s smart to wear one at any age, you’re not breaking the law if you’re 16 or older and not wearing a helmet.

Does a bike require lights for riding at night?

Yes, it does. Not only is it legally required, but it is a good decision to do so. All bikes should be equipped with a lamp or flashing white light on the front that can be seen from up to 500 feet away; on the back of the bike should be a red reflector that can be seen from up to 300 feet away or a flashing red light that can be seen from up to 500 feet away.

Are bells required on bikes?

Yes. DC bike laws state that all bicycles should be equipped with a bell or other audible signal that can be heard up to 100 feet away.

Can I bring my bike on the Metro or a Metrobus?

Yes, except for weekday rush hour time frames of 7:00-10:00am and 4:00-7:00 pm. There is also a limit of two bikes per Metro car. On weekends and most holidays, however, bikes can be brought onto the Metro at any time with a limit of four bikes per Metro car. Metrobuses are equipped with bike racks so you can ride the bus with your bike. Check out the Washington Area Bicyclist Association’s website for more information.

There are MORE Bike Laws!

These are really just a few of the many bike laws enforced in Washington, DC. WABA has tons of great information and resources available to answer all of your bike-related questions.

Prioritize your safety and well being by always obeying traffic laws and bicycle laws if you’re riding in DC. Should you be injured in a bicycle-related accident, the Personal Injury Lawyers at The Lapidus Law Firm are always here to help. Don’t just assume you’re at fault.  Call us at (202) 785-5111 for a free consultation so we can take a look at your claim.  You’ll be glad you did!  

Written By Larry Lapidus

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