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Bicycles: Rules of the Road

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, even though the number of cyclists has vastly increased.

NY Vehicle and Traffic Laws

Traffic laws and regulations are applicable to both drivers and cyclists in the state of 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 the use of the roads and are subject to the same duties, including the duty of care. The law is applicable to bicyclists who ride upon 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 who are involved in an accident with a motor vehicle are protected and thus, the defendant driver’s insurance company may be required to cover the injured bicyclist’s first $50,000 of medical bills.

Required Equipment

A bicyclist shall ride on a permanent and regular seat with his or her feet affixed to the pedals at all times. 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. During this time a rider must also furnish their bicycle with reflective devices or material. 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 that is 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.

Signaling to Traffic

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

Helmets and Children

Riders of a bicycle are prohibited from having a passenger under the age of 1 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 placed in a separate seat securely attached to the bicycle that retains the child in place and protects the child from moving parts of the bicycle. A child between the age of 5 and 14 is prohibited from being a passenger on a bicycle or an operator of a bicycle, 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 in any way 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 office may issue a summons for a violation of § 1238 of the VTL to “operators and passengers less then 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.

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

A business that chooses to use bicycles for business purposes 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 made, the rider who made such trip, including their name and identification number, and the name and place of origin of the destination.

The New York City Administrative Code also follows the New York City Traffic Rules and Regulations with regards to 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.

Conclusion

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 duties as cars, as well as 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 cyclist know and obey the rules of the road.


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