Cyclists’ legal responsibilities

Following the rules of the road? Pure joy!

Following the rules of the road? Pure joy!

Around these parts we focus much more on cyclists' right to the road than their legal responsibilities. For one thing, cyclists are at higher risk for not fully appreciating and enacting their rights than they are for failing to uphold the law. For another, most Americans have learned to drive, and most of the rules for driving also apply when we ride. Nevertheless, there are some particulars you'll want to know to stay on the right side of the law and to stay safe. Below is a summary of the biggies outlined in the Ohio Revised Code's (ORC) Chapter 4511. Various local municipal codes tend to vary slightly from the ORC, so always check the code that applies in your 'hood. Now, then...


TRAFFIC FLOW: ORC 4511.55 Operating bicycles and motorcycles on roadway.

Cyclists riding on a roadway should ride as near to the right side of the road as practicable (not as far to the right as possible). We may travel two abreast but not more. 

PATHWAYS: ORC 4511.051 Freeways—prohibited acts., ORC 4511.07 Local traffic regulations.

Bicycles are permitted to ride on any roadway except freeways. Local authorities may further regulate where bicycles are allowed to operate—for example, some municipalities don’t permit sidewalk riding while others explicitly do—but they may not prohibit the use of bicycles on any public street or highway. 

EQUIPMENTORC 4511.56 Bicycle signal devices.

Lights: Bicycles operating in low light or inclement weather must be equipped with: 1) a front white light visible from at least 500’ to the front and 300’ to the sides (this light may also be on the cyclist), 2) a red reflector on the rear visible from 100–600’ when illuminated and 3) a steady or flashing red light visible from 500’ to the rear (which may be combined with the reflector). Red lights should not be used on the front and white lights should not be used on the rear of the bicycle. 

Sounds: Bells are fine; sirens and whistles not so much.

Brakes: Every bike must have a functioning brake (We’re lookin’ at you, Mr Fixie). 

HELMETS

Bicycle helmets are not mentioned within the ORC, but some local codes require their use for at least some members of the populace (e.g., children under age 18).  

YIELDING & OVERTAKINGORC 4511, many clauses.

No specific bicycle ordinance here, just do precisely as the motorist does—yield when turning left and to pedestrians, funeral processions, emergency vehicles, etc. Stop at red lights and stop signs. Overtake vehicles on the left, not the right. 

SIGNALINGORC 4511.39 Turn and stop signals.; ORC 4511.40 Hand and arm signals.

Cyclists are required to signal our intention to turn, change lanes OR stop (no, really!), with two exceptions: 1) when we are in a turn-only lane and 2) when we need both our hands on the handlebars to maintain our safety. Left turns should be signaled by extending the left arm horizontally, right turns by extending the right arm upward or horizontally and stops by extending either arm downward. 

SHENANIGANS: ORC 4511.53 Operation of bicycles, motorcycles and snowmobiles, 4511.54 Prohibition against attaching bicycles and sleds to vehicles. 

Cyclists can’t operate a bike: 1) while carrying anything that prevents at least one hand from being on the handle bars, 2) with more than one person on it (unless the bicycle is equipped for that purpose, like a tandem) or 3) that is attached to another moving vehicle. Also, at least in the City of Columbus, it is unlawful to ride with headphones covering both ears. 

PENALTIESORC 4511.52 Bicycles—issuance of ticket—points not assessed.

Cyclists found to be violating any provision of traffic law may be ticketed and required to pay a fine and/or attend a bicycle safety course. With the exception of Operating a Vehicle Impaired (OVI) offenses, cyclists who commit traffic violations do not have points assessed against their driver’s license. 


So now you know! No excuses! :)