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A Beginner’s Guide to Bicycle Traffic Laws in New York

Bicycles are a fun and inexpensive way to travel. For those who choose to travel by bike, it’s essential to understand traffic laws, especially if you are involved in a transportation accident. Learn more about New York traffic laws from the team at Leav & Steinberg LLP.

Is a Bicycle Considered a Vehicle under Traffic Laws?

For those living in an area where bike and foot traffic is typical, it is imperative to understand how a bicycle is regarded under traffic laws. For instance, have you ever wondered if a bicycle is classified as a vehicle or pedestrian? Or if a bike rider has the right to ride on the sidewalk, street, or both? Most states, including New York, view bicycles from a hybrid perspective and are treated much the same way as cars on the street. They are generally expected to obey all traffic signs, signal turns, and carry certain safety features, such as helmets and reflectors.

Special Laws Required for Bicycles in New York

Laws vary not only from state to state but also from municipality to municipality. Therefore, it is crucial to become familiar with the laws that govern the operation of bicycles in your city and state. For example, if you live in New York City, some biking laws you should be aware of are:

  • Ride in the street, not the sidewalks (unless you are under the age of 12 and your bike’s wheels are less than 26 inches in diameter)
  • Ride with traffic
  • Stop at red lights and stop signs
  • Go with the walk
  • Use marked bike lanes or paths when available
  • Use a white headlight and red a red taillight

Equipment Requirements

A bike leaning against a wall

Some of the equipment requirements stated in the Vehicle and Traffic Laws and Regulations (VTL) in the State of New York are as follows:

  • Whenever a bicyclist rides from one-half hour after sunset to one-half hour before sunrise, they must keep both feet affixed to their pedals at all times. Attached to the bicycle’s front must be a lamp that emits a white light visible from 500 feet away. The bicycle’s rear must be equipped with a red or amber light visible from 300 feet away.
  • Bicycles must be equipped with a brake and red reflector or other materials that comply with the commissioner’s standards to prevent transportation accidents.
  • The spokes of every wheel should also be fitted with a reflex reflector or reflective tire.

Riding on a Roadway

A person operating a bicycle should always have at least one hand on the handlebars and must not carry anything that would prevent them from doing so. Bicyclists should be aware of surface hazards such as potholes and cracked roadways during their rides to ensure their protection against injury. To avoid interfering with traffic flow, cyclists should ride on the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway, except when making a left-hand turn or when other circumstances may make it hazardous to ride on the right.

Signaling to Traffic

When stopping or decreasing speed, bicyclists must give audible signals via hand and arm motions. In the event of a personal injury claim brought by a bicyclist, a motorist may not be responsible if the biker did not display the proper signal. During a left-hand turn, a bicyclist must extend their left arm horizontally, and during a right-hand turn, they must extend their right arm horizontally. When reducing speed or coming to a stop, the bicyclist’s left arm and hand should extend downward.

Children and Helmet Usage

According to VTL (1238), passengers under the age of one year are not allowed on bicycles. Children between the ages of 1 and 5 may ride a bike as passengers, provided they are wearing a helmet that complies with the commissioner’s standards and in a separate seat that secures the child in place and protects them from the bicycle’s moving parts.

Children between the ages of 5 and 14 are prohibited from riding or operating a bicycle unless wearing a helmet that meets the standards mentioned above. As a matter of law, children younger than six cannot be held responsible for understanding traffic regulations and ensuring compliance. Failing to adhere to this provision assumes negligence or assumption of risks, which may lead to lawsuits. Regulators may issue a summons, as the law requires if there is a violation in the presence of the violator’s guardian or parent.

As stated in the VTL, helmets are not mandatory for individuals older than 14. It may nevertheless be relevant to consider negligence when assessing the damages for a bicyclist’s injuries. In this event, competent testimony must be submitted to raise an issue of fact related to whether any or all of the injuries would have been prevented if a helmet had been worn.

Paths and Lanes for Bicyclists

Bicyclists should use a bicycle path or a bike lane when available. Bicycle paths are an independent infrastructure from motorized traffic and are specially designed for the use of bicycles. A bicycle lane is a part of a roadway that is meant to be used exclusively or preferentially by bicycles.

Violations When Biking

Bike riders may often wonder what consequences they will face if they break a traffic law while on the road. Some bicyclists may not be aware that roadway devices such as stop signs and red lights apply to them, which can result in a ticket. Whenever a bike is on the road, it is considered a motor vehicle and is subject to the same laws and penalties.

If a rider ignores a stop sign, they risk getting a ticket and losing points on their license. Bikers riding under the influence of alcohol or other narcotics can be charged with a DUI or DWI. These violations can result in fines or even jail time.

How the Leav & Steinberg Team Can Help

If you’re interested in learning more about bicycle traffic laws and laws regarding transportation accidents, call Leav & Steinberg LLP at (917) 983-7818 or request your free consultation with our team today.