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Bicycles: Rules of the Road

If you've been injured in an accident or on the job, the attorneys of Hach & Rose, LLP have the knowledge, skills, and experience required to hold the party responsible for your injury accountable.

Last Updated: 07-21-2023
Written by: Michael A. Rose and Gregory Hach

More people are opting for bicycles as the preferred method of city transportation. There has been a significant decrease in the risk of serious injury by commuter cyclists in New York City thanks to the increase of bike lanes in the city. This is true even though the number of cyclists has vastly increased. Remember, however, cyclists must obey the rules of the road, just like motorists.

NY Vehicle and Traffic Laws

Traffic laws and regulations apply to drivers and cyclists in New York. And any finding of a violation of this statute constitutes negligence. Numerous sections of the law deal with bicycle use, equipment, and cyclist behavior. Bicyclists have the same rights and duties as automobile drivers to use the roads. They are subject to the same duties, including the duty of care. The law applies to bicyclists who ride on any highway, private road open to public motor vehicle traffic, and any path set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles. Under the New York No-Fault Law, bicyclists involved in motor vehicle accidents are protected. Thus, the defendant driver’s insurance company may be required to cover the injured bicyclist’s first $50,000 medical bills.

Required Equipment

A bicyclist shall always ride on a permanent and regular seat with his or her feet affixed to the pedals. If a bicyclist is riding from one-half hour after sunset to one-half hour before sunrise, he or she must have equipped on the front of their bicycle a lamp that emits a white light visible in the dark from a distance of at least 500 feet and a red or amber light equipped on the rear visible for a minimum of 300 feet. Riders must also furnish their bicycles with reflective devices or materials during this time. Additionally, new bicycles should have reflective tires or a reflex reflector mounted on the spokes of each wheel. A rider must equip their bicycle with a brake and a bell or other device capable of giving an audible signal that can be heard from a distance of at least 100 feet. However, such devices may not be a siren or a whistle.

Rules of the Road: Signaling to Traffic

A bicyclist must give hand and arm signals when turning and stopping or decreasing speeds. Failure to do so could preclude a motorist’s liability in a bicyclist’s personal injury action. A bicyclist making a left-hand tum must have their left hand extended horizontally. When making a right-hand turn, they must have their left hand and arm extended upward or right hand and arm extended horizontally. Additionally, the left hand and arm should be extended downward to indicate stopping or a decrease in speed.

Helmets and Children

Bicycle riders are prohibited from having a passenger under one year. However, a child between the ages of 1 and 5 may be a passenger on a bicycle so long as he or she is wearing a tightly secured helmet that meets the standards established by the commissioner. The child must also be securely attached to the bicycle in a separate seat. It must keep the child in place and protect them from moving parts of the bicycle. A child between the ages of 5 and 14 is prohibited from being a passenger on a bicycle or operator unless he or she is wearing a helmet that meets the aforementioned standards. It is well settled that “as a matter of law, children under the age of 6 years cannot be charged with knowledge and understanding of traffic regulations and compliance with them.”

The failure of an individual to comply with § 1238 of the VTL “shall not constitute contributory negligence or assumption of risk. And shall not bar, preclude, or foreclose an action for personal injury or wrongful death by or on behalf of such person. Nor in any way diminish or reduce the damages recoverable in any such action.” However, a police officer may issue a summons for a violation of § 1238 of the VTL to “operators and passengers less than 14 years of age to the parent or guardian of the violator if the violation occurs in the presence of such person’s parent or guardian and where such parent or guardian is 18 years of age or more.”

There is no requirement that individuals above the age of 14 must wear helmets per the VTL. Nevertheless, a question of negligence may be relevant when assessing damages related to the injuries suffered by a bicyclist, provided that competent testimony is submitted sufficient to raise an issue of fact as to whether some or all of a bicyclist’s injuries would have occurred had a helmet been worn.

Rules of the Road: Bicycle Lanes and Paths

Bicyclists are required to use either a bicycle lane or bicycle path if one is available to them. The VTL defines a bike lane as “a portion of the roadway which has been designated by striping, signing and pavement markings for the preferential or exclusive use of bicycles.” And a bike path is “a path physically separated from motorized traffic by an open space or barrier and either within the highway right-of-way or within an independent right-of-way and which is intended for the use of bicycles.”

Bicycle Deliveryman

Due to the number of bike messengers employed in the city, a specific provision under the New York City Administrative Code applies to bicycles used for commercial purposes. Businesses that use bicycles for commercial purposes must have the name of their business on the bike and their business identification number and provide the operator with a bicycle helmet meeting the standards set forth by the commissioner. During business hours, the bicycle operator must carry and produce on demand a numbered ID card with the operator’s photo, name, home address, business name, address, and phone number.

A business that uses bicycles must maintain a log book that includes the name, identification number, and place of residence of each of its employed operators. As well as the date of employment and date of discharge. The bike log must track daily trips. The rider who made such trips, including their name and identification number. And the destination’s name and place of origin.

The New York City Administrative Code also follows the New York City Traffic Rules and Regulations about prohibiting bicycles from being ridden on a sidewalk. Riders who violate this provision may have their bicycles confiscated and risk being subject to legal sanctions.


Knowledge of applicable rules is crucial to promoting bicycle safety. As more individuals look for ways to economize, bicycles are becoming a more popular mode of transportation. Bicyclists are subject to most of the same rules of the road as cars and other legal requirements, which could result in liability against a cyclist.
With an increase in the number of bicyclists, it is more important than ever that cyclists know and obey the rules of the road.

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