Safety and Laws

When you’re commuting on your bike, you’re likely to share the road with cars. If you know the laws, safety rules and have the right attitude, you can be a confident, streetwise cyclist.

Bicycling Safety

Every bicyclist is responsible for his or her personal safety and welfare while remaining alert and mindful of the conditions of the roads or trails.

  • Always wear a helmet: Pennsylvania law requires all cyclists under age 12 to wear an approved bicycle helmet.
  • Obey traffic laws: Under Pennsylvania law you are a considered a vehicle when you ride a bike. Ride on the right side of the road. Obey stop signs and red lights and never ride against the flow of traffic.
  • Be predictable: Ride in a straight line, with at least one hand on the handlebars. Check to be sure your path is clear and change directions without swerving. Use hand signals to indicate when you are turning.
  • Make yourself visible: Wear bright cycling clothes. Put reflectors on your wheels and on the front and rear of your bike. At night use a headlight and an active red light and reflector on the rear of your bike.
  • Maintain your bike: Carry a pump, a patch kit and a spare tube.
  • Take care of yourself: Carry plenty of drinking water and snacks for energy. Bring your cell phone (or change to make a call) in case of an emergency.

Pennsylvania Bicycling Laws

In Pennsylvania, a bicycle is considered a vehicle, and you must obey all of the laws that apply to other vehicles. There is also a set of rules that apply specifically to bicycles. If you ride in violation of the traffic laws, you greatly increase your risk of a crash, and will likely be found at fault in the event of an accident.

General

  • You cannot have more people on the bike than the bike is designed to carry but an adult can transport a child in a secure child carrier or trailer.
  • You can ride a bicycle either on the shoulder or the roadway itself, depending on traffic speed, condition of the road and other safety factors.
  • Like all road users, slower vehicles should keep to the right. Bicyclists may ride in the left lane of a one-way street that has multiple lanes. However, this does not apply to freeways.
  • You cannot carry any packages or other items that prevent you from keeping at least one hand on the handlebars.

Equipment

  • If you use your bike between sunset and sunrise, it must be equipped with a front lamp, rear and side reflectors that are visible from at least 500 feet. This is both to help other motorists see you and also to illuminate your path. Find more about biking gear.
  • Your bike must be equipped with brakes that will stop the bike 15 feet from an initial speed of 15 mph on dry, level pavement.

Sidewalks

  • Pedestrians have the right-of-way on sidewalks and bicycle paths. You must give an audible signal as you approach and pass a pedestrian.
  • You are not permitted to ride a bicycle on a sidewalk in a business district (except where permitted by official traffic control devices), or where there is a bicycle-only lane available.

Parking

  • You can park your bicycle on a sidewalk as long as it does not impede pedestrian traffic.
  • You can park your bicycle at the curb or edge of the roadway where parking is allowed as long as it does not obstruct other vehicles.

Helmets

  • Anyone under the age of 12 must wear a helmet when riding a bicycle. This applies to anyone operating the bicycle, riding as a passenger or riding in an attached restraining seat or trailer. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation strongly recommends that all bicyclists wear helmets whenever they ride. Find more in biking gear.

Freeways

  • Bicycles are not permitted on freeways in Pennsylvania without permission of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

Traffic Signals

  • All traffic signals must be obeyed in accordance with standard vehicle laws. If a traffic signal does not detect your bicycle, try positioning the bicycle directly over the saw cuts in the pavement that detect vehicles. If the signal still does not detect you, you may treat the red signal as a stop sign and proceed through the intersection after yielding to all intersecting traffic (including pedestrians).

Hand and Arm Signals

  • To signal a left turn, extend the left hand and arm horizontally.
  • To signal a right turn, extend the right hand and arm horizontally, or extend your left hand and arm upward.
  • To signal a stop or decrease in speed, extend the left hand and arm downward.

For more information on biking safety, visit the League of American Bicyclists Bike Education page.

Safe Routes to School Program

Pennsylvania administers the federal Safe Routes to School Program, which facilitates projects that enable and encourage children to safely walk or bike to school. To learn more about the program, visit the website.