Laws and regulations governing the rights and responsibilities of cyclists may be challenging at times to interpret and understand. In some circumstances, there are conflicting rules between city and state levels. It’s also important to know that police officers may have a varied knowledge of cycling rules and may interpret these rules incorrectly at the scene of a crash. As a cyclist in Pennsylvania, you should become familiar with some key laws – which may help to prevent a future crash and to help you protect your rights as a cyclist. However, knowing your rights does not mean that you should engage in verbal arguments with auto drivers or enforcement. These clashes can lead to serious road rage and bodily injury. If a driver violates your rights, take a photo of the license plate and follow up immediately with a police officer and/or Bike Law PA.
Source of PA state bike laws
The information below comes from the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, Title 75, Vehicles, which is also known as “The Vehicle Code.” There are several relevant chapters within the Code noted below, including Chapter 31 “General Provisions;” Chapter 33 “Rules of the Road;” Chapter 35 “Special Vehicles & Pedestrians;” Chapter 37 “Miscellaneous Provisions;” and Chapter 39 Driving after Drinking/Using. Below, we highlight several key laws in the state of Pennsylvania. Please note that this list is not comprehensive.
Pennsylvania State Laws – Key Laws from Title 75
Highlight from Chapter 1: General Provisions
Vehicle and Pedalcycle Definitions
- In Pennsylvania bicycles are considered vehicles according to the statute that defines vehicles and pedalcycles noted below:
- Vehicle Definition: “Every device in, upon or by which any person of property is or may be transported or drawn upon a highway…”
Pedalcycle Definition: “A vehicle propelled solely by human-powered pedal or a pedalcyle with electric assist.”
Source: 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. §§102 (2016)
Highlights from Chapter 33 – Rules of the Road
Where to Ride – the Right Side of the Road
Pennsylvania requires that a bicyclist, traveling at a speed less than the speed of traffic, “shall be driven in the right-hand lane then available for traffic, or as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway”, except:
- When overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction or
- When preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into an alley, private road or driveway.
This requirement does not apply to:
- A bicycle using any portion of an available roadway due to unsafe surface conditions.
- A bicycle using a roadway that has a width of not more than one lane of traffic in each direction.
Source: 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. §3301 (2016)
- As far to the right as practicable (AFRAP) is the key phrase which seems to appear in some form or another in many state laws governing where to ride. The underlying issue with this language is that the person who interprets “practicable” may likely be different to the cyclist, auto driver, and police officer. Additionally, the law allows cyclists to use “available roadway” due to “unsafe” surface conditions. Again, the question remains who may make these determinations. Colorado’s state law eliminates the confusion by granting the decision making authority to the cyclist; their law states that a cyclist shall ride “…far enough to the right as judged safe by the bicyclists…”
- Note: the requirement to stay “as far to the right as practicable” doesn’t apply where the road has a width of “not more than one lane of traffic in each direction”. It is lawful to ride in the middle of a street, for example, where there is no shoulder or where the shoulder is taken up by parking spaces.
Safe Passing Laws – 4-feet zone
Pennsylvania requires that the driver of a motor vehicle overtaking a bicycle traveling in the same direction “…shall pass to the left of the pedalcycle within not less than four feet at a careful and prudent reduced speed.”
Source: 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. §3303 (2016)
Pennsylvania is the ONLY state which has a four-feet passing law on the books under all circumstances. North Carolina and South Dakota include four and six feet passing laws when certain conditions are met. Pennsylvania is also one of a handful of states that specifically require the passing vehicle to REDUCE SPEED. More than half of our states have laws citing specific three-feet passing zones. Unfortunately, 19 states have Safe Passing Laws which remain unclear and poorly defined. More detail below:
- North Carolina requires drivers to allow at least two feet and if in a no-passing zone, then a minimum of four feet or completely entering left lane of the highway;
- South Dakota requires drivers to allow a minimum of three feet if the speed limit is35 mph or less, and requires drivers to allow a minimum of six feet when posted speed limit is greater than 35 mph;
- 28 States designate three feet passing laws; and
- 19 states designate words, such as “Due Care,” “Reasonably Clear,” “Safe Distance.” These ambiguous words create confusion on the part of both car and cyclist.
- To see where your state stacks up against others in safe passing laws, look here:
Pennsylvania specifically requires vehicles turning right to not cross the path of a moving
cyclist riding along the right edge of a roadway.
- “No turn by a driver of a motor vehicle shall interfere with a pedalcycle proceeding straight while operating in accordance with Chapter 35 (relating to special vehicles
Source: 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. §3331 (2016)
Drivers almost never look in their right mirror when turning right. This section specifically protects a cyclist from a right turning vehicle.
Distracted Driving Laws
Pennsylvania currently has the following law aimed at distracted driving, subject to limited exceptions:
- No driver shall operate a motor vehicle on a roadway while using an interactive wireless communications device to send, read or write a text-based communication while the vehicle is in motion.
Source: 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. §3316 (2016)
Create a Viable “Textalizer”
- The real question behind a Distracted Driving law is that of enforcement; specifically, what tools are available in the field for law enforcement to assess and document whether a driver was using a cell phone prior or during a crash. In 2016, New York Senator Lieberman proposed a law known as “Evan’s Law” to create a “textalizer” tool which law enforcement may use at the scene. Bike Law PA reported on this innovative proposed law, read more here.
Change the Penalties
- The Pennsylvania law on Distracted Driving includes a penalty which is woefully inappropriate as either a consequence or a deterrent. The Code states that the penalty for violating this law if convicted includes a fine of $50. The state should consider a fine of $5,000 as a penalty for distracted drivers as crash events between car and bike often result in significant bodily injuries to the cyclist.
Highlights from Chapter 35 – Special Vehicles & Pedestrians
Traffic Laws Apply to Bicycles
In Pennsylvania traffic laws for vehicles apply to bicycles;
“Every person riding a bicycle 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 provisions…” This includes the requirement to signal turns by hand, including stopping. (3335-3336).
Source: 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. §§3501 (2016)
Riding on Roadways and Bike Paths
This section states that bikes may be ridden on a shoulder of a highway, traveling in the same direction as traffic. It also allows for not more than two riders abreast except on bike paths or roads set aside for bikes.
- “A pedalcycle may be operated on the shoulder of a highway and shall be operated in the same direction as required of vehicles operated on the roadway. All turns shall be made in accordance with section 3331 (relating to required position and method of turning.”
Source: 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. §§3505 (a) (2016)
- “Persons riding pedalcycles upon a roadway shall not ride more than two abreast
except on paths or parts of roadways set aside for the exclusive use of pedalcycles.”
Source: 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. §§3505 (e) (2016)
The requirement for a cyclist to use available bicycle lanes/paths was removed from the statutes in 1998. However, we do encourage the use of designated bike lanes/paths for safety.
Lamps and Bicycle Lights
According to The Code in Pennsylvania, when cyclists are riding between sunset and sunrise, the bike must have a front lamp emitting white light “…visible from a distance of at least 500 feet to the front…” and must have a red reflector light in the rear of the bike which is “…visible at least 500 feet to the rear…” Lastly, the code requires that amber reflectors are placed on both sides of the bike.
Source: 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. §§3507 (2016)
Riding a Bicycle on the Sidewalk in PA
Pennsylvania allows bicycles to operate on sidewalks subject to the following rules:
- A person riding a bicycle upon a sidewalk or bike path used by pedestrians “…shall yield the right-of-way to any pedestrian and shall give an audible signal before overtaking and passing a pedestrian.”
- A person shall not ride a bicycle upon a sidewalk in a business district unless permitted by official traffic-control devices, or when a usable bike-only lane is available adjacent to the sidewalk.
Source: 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. §3508 (2016)
Helmet Law & Civil Actions
Pennsylvania requires that any person under the age of 12 riding a bicycle, as an operator or passenger, must wear a protective bicycle helmet.
However, in no event shall the failure to wear a required helmet be used as evidence in a trial of any civil action; nor shall any jury in a civil action be instructed regarding violations of the law requiring helmets; nor shall failure to use a helmet be considered as contributory negligence.
Source: 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. §3510 (2016)
California, Delaware and New Mexico are the most progressive states in this area as their laws require helmets for cyclist’s younger than 18. New Jersey is a close second, requiring helmets for cyclists under 17. Twelve other states put the required helmet age at under 16, while seven states place the age between 12 and 15. 28 states are completely silent on the issue of helmets.
To see where your state stacks up against others in safe passing laws, look here.
We strongly encourage the use of a helmet because of its ability to prevent or minimize serious head injuries if you are involved in a bicycle crash.
Pennsylvania restricts the use of e-bikes to those over 16.
Source: 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. §3514 (2016)
Section 3314 of the vehicle code specifically prohibits the use of headphones by vehicle operators. This has been held by caselaw to apply to a motorcyclist wearing earbuds under his helmet. The above-quoted section making all laws applicable to drivers of vehicles applicable to cyclists means that the common practice of riding with earbuds is technically illegal in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Highlights from Chapter 37 – Miscellaneous Provisions
Bicycle Dooring Law
Pennsylvania requires that “No person open any door on a motor vehicle unless and until it is reasonably safe to do so and can be done without interfering with the movement of other traffic…” In addition, no person shall leave a door open on a side of a vehicle available to moving traffic for a period- of- time longer than necessary to load or unload passengers.
Source: 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. §3705 (2016)
Promote the “Dutch Reach”
In addition to a state’s Dooring Law, we should consider adopting a driving practice which can become a mandatory part of our driving education system. That’s what the Dutch did in creating the “Dutch Reach.” The practice forces the driver (or passenger) to pivot their body towards the street—which automatically points their vision to where an oncoming bicycle may be coming. This practice would address and reduce the root cause of most door injuries: the motorist’s failure to check behind them before exiting their vehicle towards the street. Bike Law PA discussed the merits of the Dutch practice in the article here.
Highlights from Chapter 38 Driving Under the Influence
Bicycling Under the Influence
As we all know as motor vehicle drivers, Pennsylvania’s Vehicle Code prohibits driving vehicles while intoxicated or after using controlled substances. The Code also states that bicycles are defined as vehicles and therefore this same law is applied to bicyclists. Bicycles should not be operated while the rider is under the influence of alcohol or other controlled substances.
Source: 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. §§3802 (2016)
More Resources on PA State Cycling Laws
Bike Law University is an online resource developed by the Bicycle League of America which provides side by side comparisons of how each state lines up on several key cycling related laws. This comparative format is particularly helpful to advocacy groups and advocates looking to improve their state’s position on a particular- law, by pointing to other more progressive states.
Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation (Penn DOT) created a short document called “Bike Law and Safety Tips for Motorists”.
Also from Penn DOT is a publication called “Pennsylvania Bicycle Driver’s Manual” as well as “Street Smarts: Bicycling’s Traffic Survival Guide.” The copyright on this publication is 1988.