Bicycle Safety and Laws

Safety Tips

  • Always wear your helmet. Vancouver has a helmet ordinance. Both adults and children are required to wear a helmet when riding a bicycle, roller skates, in-line skates, skateboard, scooter, or unicycle in a public area.
  • Stay off the sidewalk: Even though you may think the sidewalk is the safest place for you to be, it is actually a lot more dangerous than riding properly on the road. Statistics show that because there are so many more conflict points riding on the sidewalk (cars turning, intersections to cross, people walking, etc.), the safest place for you to ride is on the road traveling with traffic.
  • Keep your bicycle in good working condition: Inspect items like your brakes, tires, pedals, seats, and handlebars on a regular basis to make sure that everything is in good shape and functioning properly.
  • Obey traffic laws: For information& on bicycle related laws in Washington State see the Frequently Asked Questions below.
  • Be Visible: ride out in the travel lane out of the way of sight blocking items liked parked cars. Try to wear bright clothing and use headlights and taillights when riding at night.
  • Be Predictable: Ride your bicycle in a steady line without weaving in and out.  This allows oncoming and/or overtaking drivers to better anticipate your travel path.
  • Communicate: use the proper hand signals when turning and slowing down and make eye contact with drivers

For more information on how to ride safely, check out :
Washington State Department of Transportation: http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/bike/

Bicycle Related Laws

Which traffic laws apply to bicyclists?
When ridden on any roadway, a bicycle rider has all of the rights and responsibilities of any vehicle. (RCW 46.61.755).  Unless bicycles are specifically excluded, all traffic laws apply to bicycles. All violations are subject to issuance of an infraction.

Are children required to comply with bicycle traffic laws?
Bicyclists of all ages are required to follow the same traffic laws and may be cited for violations. Parents or guardians may be held responsible for a child's violation. (RCW 46-61.700) A parent or guardian shall not knowingly permit bicycle traffic safety violations by their ward (RCW 46.61.700).

Can I carry something in my hands while riding a bicycle?
As long as you can keep one hand on the handlebars and maintain control of the bicycle, you can carry things in your other hand. (RCW 46.61.775)

If there is a bike path adjacent to a roadway, do I have to ride on the bike path or can I ride on the roadway?
It is your choice. Sometimes a fast rider may want to ride on the roadway if the path is too crowded.

It sounds like bicycles are treated just like cars by the law, right?
Right! A "vehicle" is defines in RCW 46.04.670 as "every device capable of being moved upon a public highway..., including bicycles."

May bicyclists ride side by side?
Yes. They may not ride more than two abreast except on paths or parts of roadways set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles. (RCW 46.61.770.2)

Should bicyclists ride with the flow of traffic or facing traffic?
Bicycles are required to be ridden with the flow of traffic at all times. (RCW 46.61.100)
Riding against the flow of traffic is one of the leading causes of bicycle/automobile collisions

What equipment is required on bicycles being ridden at night?
A white front light and a red rear reflector are required. (RCW 16.61.780)
In addition, a red lamp may be used on the rear of the bicycle. A brake or brakes capable of making the wheels skid on clean, dry, level pavement is required at all times.

Where in the traffic lane should a bicyclist ride?
That depends on the number and types of lanes as well as the traffic in the area.

  • A bicycle traveling at the speed of traffic may use the middle of the lane.
  • A bicycle traveling at less than the speed of the traffic flow should ride as near as is safe to the right side of the right lane except when preparing to turn, passing another vehicle or on a one way street where it is legal to ride on the left side of the roadway. (RCW 46.61.770)
  • Bicyclists may ride on the right shoulder, but this is only required on limited access roadways, (such as freeways).
  • A bicyclist should ride in the middle of the right lane when the lane is too narrow to permit side by side sharing of the lane with motor vehicles and hazards prevent safe operation of the bicycle on the shoulder or at the right edge of the lane.
  • A bicyclist must pull off of a 2-lane roadway, like any other slow moving vehicle, when 5 or more vehicles are lined up behind it, if there is sufficient area for a safe turnout. (RCW 46.61.427)
  • At intersections bicycles will normally follow the same path as other vehicles. At difficult or dangerous intersections, riders may dismount and use the crosswalks.