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DISTRICT of COLUMBIA BICYCLE LAWS

It’s important to know your legal rights (and duties) when bicycling in Washington, D.C. It is especially important after a bicycle accident (we call them bicycle “crashes” and explain why here).

For any questions about the D.C.’s bike laws, or about your rights to the road, contact attorney Timmy Finch directly.

Right to the Road

  • Washington, DC bicyclists generally have the same rights, and same duties, as drivers of motor vehicles.

Prohibitions

  • Clinging to motor vehicles while biking is not permitted.
  • Bicycles may only carry the number of persons for which it is designed.
  • No person shall operate or ride a bicycle while carrying any package, bundle, or article which prevents the operator from keeping at least one hand on the handle bars.

Helmets

  • Only required for cyclists 16 and under only.

Alcohol

  • Washington, DC’s DUI statute applies to bicyclists.

Where to Ride

  • A person shall operate a bicycle, sidewalk bicycle or personal mobility device in a safe and non-hazardous manner so as not to endanger himself or herself or any other person.
  • When in travel lanes, Bicyclists must ride with the flow of traffic (this does not apply to contra-flow bicycle lanes)

Sidewalks

  • Sidewalk riding is generally permitted but bicyclists riding on a sidewalk must yield the right of way to pedestrians and must give an audible signal before passing.
  • Sidewalk riding is prohibited in the Central Business District.

Motor Vehicle Doors

  • No person may open the door of a motor vehicle unless it is safe to do so.

Bike Lanes, Bike Paths and Multi-Use Paths

  • DC bicyclists are not required to ride in or upon bike lanes or paths.

Stop Signs and Traffic Control Devices

  • Bicyclists are required to come to a full and complete stop at all stop signs and traffic lights displaying a red signal.

Signaling

  • There is no requirement that bicyclists use hand/arm signals when turning or stopping.

Drivers Overtaking Bicyclists

  • Motor vehicle drivers must allow at least 3 feet of space when passing a bicyclist.
  • A driver may not drive recklessly near or drive unnecessarily close to a bicyclist.  Where doing causes great bodily harm or death the driver shall be guilty of a felony.  

Bicycles Passing Cars

  • A person operating a bicycle may overtake and pass another vehicle only under conditions which permit the movement to be made with safety.
  • A person operating a bicycle 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.

Group Riding

  • Bicyclists may not ride more than 2 abreast and may not impede motor vehicle traffic.

Equipment

  • Bicycles, when in use at night, shall be equipped with a lamp on the front which shall emit a steady or flashing white light visible from a distance of at least five hundred feet (500 ft.) to the front and with a red reflector on the rear which shall be visible from all distances from fifty feet (50 ft.) to three hundred feet (300 ft.) to the rear when directly in front of upper beams of headlamps on a motor vehicle.
  • Each bicycle shall be equipped with a brake which enables the operator to cause the braked wheels to skid on dry, level, clean pavement;
  • A fixed gear bicycle is not required to have a separate brake, but an operator of a fixed gear bicycle shall be able to stop the bicycle using the pedals.
  • Each bicycle shall be equipped with a bell or other device capable of giving a signal audible for a distance of at least one hundred feet.

Electric Assist Bikes

  • A motorized bicycle is a two or three wheeled vehicle with all of the following characteristics: (a) A post mounted seat or saddle for each person that the device is designed and equipped to carry; “(b) A vehicle with two (2) or three (3) wheels in contact with the ground, which are at least sixteen inches (16 in.) in diameter; “(c) Fully operative pedals for human propulsion; and “(d) A motor incapable of propelling the device at a speed of more than twenty miles per hour (20 mph) on level ground. A motorized bicycle shall be a motorcycle when operated by motor at speeds in excess of thirty miles per hour (30 mph) and the operator shall be required to have on his or her possession a valid motorcycle endorsement. A motorized bicycle shall be a motor-driven cycle when operated by motor at speeds in excess of twenty miles per hour (20 mph) and the operator shall be required to have on his or her possession a valid driver license.

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