My conversation with a Cop about bikes, traffic and safety tips

The other day I was having coffee with one of my friends who happens to be an Officer with a very large metropolitan police department. We’ll call him “Officer Ben.”I had some questions for him regarding laws that apply to bicyclists as well as safety tips. I figured he’d be a great source for this info since he’s on the streets. Some of the items listed below are things you might get a ticket for or suggestions on keeping you safe while riding.

1. Don’t ride the opposite direction of traffic.


2. Front head light.
This must be at least 300 feet visible. Rear red light that is visible at 500 feet.
-Reflectors are not sufficient
-Wear reflective clothing or high-visibility vests/shirts. Don’t wear dark clothing when riding at night.
-Pedals must have yellow, wheels/spokes with white, rear red and white front reflectors.
-Officer Ben recommends blinking lights to make you more visible to cars on the road.

3. Brakes
-All bicycles MUST have some sort of braking system. Fixie riders, if a cop pulls you over and your bike does not have some sort of brake setup, you will get a ticket. The argument that you can stop the bike with your legs or skip stopping will not fly.

4. Tall Bikes-As a bicyclist, you must be able to come to a stop and put one foot down.

5. Cell phone
-Remember, a bicycle is considered a “vehicle” and if you’re caught on your phone, it will yield the same fees as if you were driving a car while on the phone.

6. Traffic violations
-If you don’t stop at red lights, stop signs, erratic lane changes or any thing that shows you broke a law, a cop will pull you over.

7. Hand signals
-Remember to use your hand signals. A cop can pull you over if you aren’t using them. I may add that if you’re riding your bike, you make a lane change or turn and you don’t use the signals, which causes a car to swerve from hitting you, you could be cited.

8. Stereo
-If you’re one of those riders that like to blast their stereo while riding a bike and the noise volume can be heard 50 feet away, you can be cited.

9. Riding on the sidewalk without “due care.”
In California a law recently passed where it is permissible for a bicyclist to ride on the sidewalk with due care. This means if conditions on the street is unsafe to ride a bike, the person can use the sidewalk, but they have to be careful and be mindful of the people on it. You can’t be doing sprints on the sidewalk while there are hundreds of people walking on it.

10. Hands-You have to at least have ONE HAND on the handlebar at all times.


11. If a cop sees you’ve got a gun, you will be pulled over.


12. Look suspicious
-If you or your bike fits a description of a crime, you will be stopped.

13. Record your bike’s serial numbers.


14. Have pictures of you with your bike on your cell phone.
Have serial number(s) of your bikes on your phone.

15. Carry pepper spray on you or on your bike…you never know!


16. Have the number to PD’s Dispatch Department for each city you are commuting through on your cell phone.


17. Headphones
-If you have both ear buds in, you will get stopped. Best thing to do is either not ride with it or just have one ear bud on. It’s important that you hear emergency vehicles approaching.

18. Be aware of your surroundings at all times. Be cautious.


19. Don’t start fights. It’s not worth it.


20. Don’t do anything stupid.

Well there you have it a list of 20 different things to help you avoid getting tickets and keeping you safe. I’d like to thank Officer Ben for taking the time to talk with us. Keep in mind, quite a bit of the things we mentioned has much to do with the individual Officer that pulls you over. Your attitude will also make a difference. I also have to mention, laws in each city and state are different. Some of the things I mentioned here could be totally legal in your city/state and vice versa. It pays to become familiar with the applicable laws in your locale — most are available online through your city’s/state’s government website. Be safe out there!


19 Comments

  1. David Crowell November 14, 2011 7:07 am 

    Those are mostly good tips. You seem to mix up state law of an unknown state with general good advice.

  2. Matt Finnigan November 14, 2011 7:12 am 

    Yeah – the “hand signals” thing isn’t a requirement in all jurisdictions. In Mass, state law says cyclists should use hand signals when safe to do so – if you need both hands on the bars, take the turn and don’t sacrifice your control.

  3. Peter November 14, 2011 7:51 am 

    http://dmv.ca.gov/pubs/vctop/d11/vc21201.htm

    A rear light is NOT a California requirement. A rear reflector is the minimal requirement. I’ll also add that a flat 3 inch rear reflector can appear brighter to drivers than the lower-end “blinky” lights and you never have to worry about the batteries dying.

    One of the problems with an active tail light is that you will not be aware if it dies while you are out riding. So I tell bicyclists they should also have a decent rear reflector on their bikes.

  4. BluesCat November 14, 2011 8:10 am 

    You’re lucky to have spoken with a police officer who knows the laws. A Phoenix cop I spoke to one time told me “you don’t belong out there” in the traffic lane at a stop sign!

  5. Ghost Rider November 14, 2011 8:12 am 

    Look, everyone — these are general “good advice” tips from a law enforcement professional. The tips may not apply to YOUR jurisdiction, which is why we stated at the end:

    ” …laws in each city and state are different. Some of the things I mentioned here could be totally legal in your city/state and vice versa. It pays to become familiar with the applicable laws in your locale — most are available online through your city’s/state’s government website. Be safe out there!”

  6. Ghost Rider November 14, 2011 8:13 am 

    @BluesCat — amen! Too many cops are unfamiliar enough with the applicable laws that they border on the dangerous. This guy, at least, sounds like he knows what he’s talking about.

  7. zyzzyva November 14, 2011 10:21 am 

    “Some of the items listed below are things you might get a ticket for or suggestions on keeping you safe while riding.”

    In other words, not all of these are laws. I don’t know of any state or municipality that requires riders to wear bright or reflective clothing, but it’s still a good idea. Likewise, a rear reflector might be sufficient to appease the law, but a rear light is still a good idea. It also helps defeat the “but I didn’t see him!” argument made by all too many drivers.

  8. rapps November 14, 2011 10:59 am 

    #14 is easy enough to do but at the risk of sounding dim, why?
    So that you can report/proved/provide photo to police if bike stolen?

  9. RL Policar! November 14, 2011 11:00 am 

    Rapps, yes that’s exactly why you would do so.

  10. BluesCat November 14, 2011 11:03 am 

    zyzzyva – Totally agree on the reflective clothing AND a taillight in addition to a rear reflector.

    I have Three Taillights, plus a reflector, on the back of my recumbent; my main commuter ride. If somebody rear-ends me they should be charged with a felony: Operating a Motor Vehicle While Blind.

  11. Kagi November 14, 2011 5:17 pm 

    Not bad advice — but it’s really a shame that the officer decided (?) not to mention the biggest point of contention: lane sharing. Many police don’t know — or claim not to know — that cyclists have the right to use the full lane when it’s too narrow to share (usually defined as 14 feet or less). This is true even in states with “As far right as practicable” laws. Try to find a polite, friendly way to make sure that your police officers understand.

  12. RL Policar! November 14, 2011 5:21 pm 

    Kagi,

    That was never brought up during our conversation,so you can’t say it was intentional that Officer Ben didn’t mention it because he doesn’t know.

  13. Iron_Man November 15, 2011 5:21 am 

    Well that was insightful, my conversation with a cop friend was more like, “We really don’t care much about cyclists, unless you do something really stupid, we just look the other way.” Really stupid was basically riding the opposite direction of traffic and running through stops during traffic hours. Our police staff is running pretty lean, so cyclists are off the radar (no pun intended…or is there?).

  14. Graham November 15, 2011 12:39 pm 

    My experience matches with Iron Man’s. Our police officers never say anything to cyclists no matter what they’re doing. If they took the time to pull over and educate those riders who are being particularly dangerous or stupid, I can’t help but think that we’d all be safer and better off.

  15. Mike Myers November 15, 2011 2:44 pm 

    How many of us would fail the “reflectors on pedals” requirement? I know I would, on all four bikes. Do the reflective patches on my bike shoes count?

  16. Raiyn November 16, 2011 10:47 pm 

    @ Mike According to my father (a retired LEO) the reflective bits of many cycling and running shoes would most likely be fine, but to CYA he does suggest adding some reflective tape to the front and back of the pedals. Your mileage may vary.

  17. Raiyn November 16, 2011 11:04 pm 

    Sounds like some might want to revisit my “Stealth” reflector postings:

    http://www.bikehacks.com/bikehacks/2010/03/stealth-reflectors-for-your-bike.html

    The BikeHacks link will take you to an overview and there’s a link there to the Bikeforums thread where I introduced the idea.

    [i](this is the legal CYA stuff)

    Please keep in mind that reflectors and/ or reflective tape is no substitute for lights and such items are to be viewed and used as supplements to a lighting system not in place of one.

    PLEASE CHECK YOUR LOCAL LAWS BEFORE USING THIS SYSTEM

    Quick link to bike laws including some international regs. http://www.massbike.org/bikelaw/bikelaw.htm

    It’s due to the research I did on that site that
    I kept the tape in the rear red as FL law demands. “Every bicycle in use between sunset and sunrise shall be equipped with a lamp on the front exhibiting a white light visible from a distance of at least 500 feet to the front and a lamp and reflector on the rear each exhibiting a red light visible from a distance of 600 feet to the rear.” Personally, I don’t want a ticket on a technicality like the color of my rear facing reflector.

    “Stealth” reflectors are a wonderful concept, but I don’t want anyone having legal issues because they don’t comply with local laws. Remember: Lawyers Suck and neither I, nor Bikecommuters.com, nor BikeForums, nor BikeHacks will be held responsible because you didn’t do your homework.

    That said, it’s my understanding that the stock CPSC (crappy plastic) reflectors are required to be sold with (generally that means installed)new bicycles but that the law in no state (that I’ve found) requires them to be the reflective surface that is actually used so long as they meet the requirements of that state (ie visibility from a specific distance and / or surface area). [/i]

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