TENNESSEE BICYCLE LAWS
It’s important to know your legal rights (and duties) when bicycling in Tennessee. It is especially important after a bicycle accident (we call them bicycle “crashes” and explain why here).
For any questions about the State’s bike laws, or about your rights to the road, contact attorney Amy Johnson directly.
Right to the Road
- Tennessee bicyclists generally have the same rights, and same duties, as drivers of motor vehicles.
- Clinging to motor vehicles while biking is not permitted.
- Bicycles may only carry the number of persons for which it is designed, except an adult may carry a child in a backpack or sling.
- Sirens are not permitted on bicycles except for used by a police or fire department.
- There is no statewide requirement for helmet for adults, however, children under 16 years of age in Tennessee must legally wear a helmet while riding in public.
- Tennessee’s DUI statute does NOT apply to bicyclists and the state’s DUII (driving under the influence of intoxicants) does not apply to people on bikes, however other criminal statutes would be applicable, such as reckless endangerment, and all applicable traffic laws requiring due care.
Where to Ride
- Bicycles are to ride as close as practicable and safe to the right side of the roadway except when overtaking or passing another vehicle, when preparing to make a left turn, when necessary to avoid a fixed or slow moving object or vehicle or when riding in a substandard width lane.
- Sidewalk riding is generally permitted but bicyclists except where prohibited by local ordinance. Cyclists riding on a sidewalk must yield the right of way to pedestrians and must give an audible signal before passing.
Bike Lanes, Bike Paths and Multi-Use Paths
- Tennessee bicyclists are NOT required to ride in or upon bike lanes or paths when it is adjacent to the roadway with exceptions for right and left turns and to avoid hazards.
- To turn left bicyclists may perform a “box turn” or use the left turn lane.
- A left turning bicyclist has the right of way over a driver intending to proceed straight at an intersection.
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.
- Bicyclists must use hand/arm signals when turning and stopping.
Drivers Overtaking Bicyclists
- If a vehicle is passing a cyclist, they must maintain a safe distance of no less than 3 feet until safely past the bicycle
Drivers using bike lanes
- Motor vehicles may not travel or park in bike lanes
Bicycles Passing on the Right
- Bicyclists may pass motor vehicles on the right if it is reasonably safe to do so.
- Bicyclists may not ride more than 2 abreast and cyclists riding 2 abreast may not impede motor vehicle traffic. Bicyclists riding two abreast must be in the same lane.
- Every bicycle must be equipped with a white front facing headlight, and a red rear reflector or light, visible from at least 500 feet when used at nighttime.
- Every bicycle must have a red reflector or lighting device or material of such size or characteristics and so mounted as to be visible from all distances up to 600 feet to the rear when directly in front of lawful lower beams of headlights on a motor vehicle.
- Every bicycle shall be equipped with a brake which will adequately control movement of and stop and hold such bicycle within 15 from 10 mph on level dry clean pavement.
Police Inspection of Bicycles
- A uniformed police officer may stop and inspect a bicycle at any time upon reasonable cause that a bicycle is unsafe or not equipped as required by law.
Electric Assist Bikes
- Tennessee law defines an electric assisted bicycle as a device upon which any person may ride that is equipped with two (2) or three (3) wheels, any of which is twenty inches (20″) or more in diameter, fully operable pedals for human propulsion, and an electric motor of less than seven hundred fifty (750) watts
- electric bikes are divided into three classes based upon pedal assisted bikes (class 1 and 3) bicycles which are capable of being exclusively motor propelled (class 2), and max speeds at which the motor ceases to provide assistance, (20mph for class 1 and 2, 28mph for class 3).
- Bicyclists may use class 1 and 2 e-bikes in the same matter as traditional bicycles except sidewalk riding is prohibited except where authorized by local ordinance
- class 3 e-bikes are not allowed on paths or trails where bicycles are allowed to travel, except where the bike path is adjacent to or part of the street or highway, or allowed by local ordinance.
- riders using class 3 e-bikes must legally use a helmet, and children under 14 are prohibited from operating class 3 e-bikes.