Friday Musing – know your local bike law?

Last Friday a post about an obscure traffic law that punishes cyclists graced the Streetsblog Chicago site.

The debate continued offline during a friendly chat I had with a local Chicago attorney who represents cyclists involved in crashes. The question is to what degree are cyclists held to the true letter of the law – and in this case – are bikes not allowed to pass cars on the right???

Of course – there have been differing interpretations of this particular law – including a lawyer who says yes, bicyclists may pass on the right.

The specific law in question regards the following:

Section 11-704(b) of the Illinois Vehicle Code, which reads in part:

The driver of a 2 wheeled vehicle may not pass upon the right of any other vehicle proceeding in the same direction unless the unobstructed pavement to the right of the vehicle being passed is of a width of not less than 8 feet.

Our resident Ghost Rider points out that with any traffic law there’s no blanket “right way” – it’s a state-by-state, municipality-by-municipality issue. What’s legal in CA is wholeheartedly illegal another state, and vice versa.

As noted in this Streetsblog post –

In 2010, California’s legislature revised their passing-on-right statute to fix its ambiguity, and now Illinois advocacy groups are gearing up to push for a similar change at home.

So what can we do? Always “check your own local laws” first. In Chicago, the city has a web page dedicated to its local bike laws. The state advocacy group in Illinois – the League of Illinois Bicyclists – also has a pdf available on its site of the IL state bike laws.

So do a check with your local city/state laws. If nothing else, such stories are an excellent reminder for all commuters (cyclists and motorists alike) to become familiar with the laws that govern their actions in their areas.

Anyone have any oddball law examples to share from your own state and/or your travels around other countries?

We came across a few oddball examples we found to share with you this Friday:

* In Georgia no bicycle shall be equipped, modified, or altered in such a way as to cause the pedal in its lowermost position to be more than 12 inches above the ground, nor shall any bicycle be operated if so equipped. (see weird law #8)

* Bicycles are not allowed in the tennis courts in the state of Idaho

* Ontario, Canada, has several bikes laws with hefty fines (up to $85CAD), including a bike must have a bell or horn in good working order and must signal their turns.
(Jack’s written about a similar bike bell law in Tampa, FL)

* In Fort Scott, KS, “everyone, whether a resident of Fort Scott, or a visitor to town, is required to register their bicycle.”

* And in Sun Prairie, WI, No rider of a bicycle shall remove both hands from the handlebars or practice any trick or fancy riding in any street in the city nor shall any bicycle rider carry or ride any other person so that two persons are on the bicycle at one time, unless a seat is provided for a second person.

We covered bike laws 5 years ago right here on BikeCommuters.comHow long will it take for some of these crazy (out-of-date) laws to change?


  1. Max Power

    The language of most states’ traffic laws pertaining to bikes start out with something to the effect of “bicyclists have the rights & responsibilities of motorists” followed by a series of regulations that marginalize cyclists (mostly legally, but literally in Far-to-Right regulations)
    After all of the further rules are applied, that initial phrase effectively becomes nothing more than a way to punish cyclists.


    I live and ride in Ontario, Canada and have rarely had a horn or bell. I signal now, but haven’t always.

    The bell and signal laws here are very very rarely enforced. Night riding without a light is more likely to be enforced, but even that doesn’t seem to happen very often.

    If a law exists in print but isn’t enforced, the desired effect cannot be expected. Is it still worth it to have such laws on the books? I don’t have an answer for that.

  3. Guy

    I don’t particularly like to pass on right using either a bike or a car. There’s always a chance the car you’re passing will move over to the right and hit you. There was a bicyclist who got hit in San Francisco and killed while on the right of cement truck. I don’t have the exact details and I don’t know if it were a passing issue or not.

  4. Ghost Rider

    I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I’ve not kept up with the local laws. I’ve never been stopped by the cops anywhere I’ve ridden.

    I generally follow the laws that vehicle users must adhere to, and “common sense” for the rest. That being said, I rode in Tampa for years without a bell…blissfully unaware that I was a scofflaw all along!

  5. BluesCat

    The laws in Arizona say that same stuff about “a person riding a bicycle on a roadway or on a shoulder adjoining a roadway is granted all of the rights and is subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle” (Arizona Revised Statutes §28-812).

    Good luck surviving an attempt to follow that law, however. The bike lanes always end about four or five car lengths before all traffic light controlled intersections, leaving a single lane for your bicycle and a competing line of cars racing to make a right turn at the upcoming intersection. I do not know of a single instance of a bicyclist winning that contest.

    I almost lost a couple of those competitions myself, and so always retreat to the sidewalk well before the bike lane ends. Riding the sidewalk is legal in most jurisdictions in Arizona (even REQUIRED in some areas of Phoenix), but even if it wasn’t I would still do it.

  6. bigbenaugust

    Pedals 12″ inches off the ground?
    Let’s take the penny-farthings off of the books, people!

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