Academic journal article Fordham Urban Law Journal

Bicycle Laws in the United States - Past, Present, and Future

Academic journal article Fordham Urban Law Journal

Bicycle Laws in the United States - Past, Present, and Future

Article excerpt

Introduction     I. Traffic Laws for Bicyclists        A. Laws that Affect the Treatment of Bicycles as           Vehicles        B. Where to Ride Laws        C. Mandatory Use of Bicycle Facility Laws        D. Mandatory Helmet Use Laws        E. Sidewalk Riding Laws    II. Traffic Laws for Motorists that Affect Bicyclists        A. Safe Passing and "Three Foot" Laws        B. Vulnerable Road User Laws        C. "Dooring" Laws   III. What Is the Future for Bicycle-Related Laws?        A. Bicycling Under the Influence Laws        B. Distracted Driving Laws        C. "Idaho Stop," "Dead Red," and Other Laws that           Create Special Rules for Bicyclists        D. Laws for Electrically-Assisted Bicycles        E. Laws that Alter Liability Rules Conclusion 


In the last decade, bicycling has been the fastest growing mode of travel used to commute to work. (1) Many states, cities, and the federal government have shown an interest in promoting bicycle use. Despite this increase, there are substantial misunderstandings about the laws that govern bicyclist behavior and laws that govern how bicyclists and motorists share our nation's roadways. (2) It is my hope that this article clears up misunderstandings and explains features of bicycle-related laws through documenting the evolution of bicycle-related traffic laws. It will also look at examples of potential new types of legislation that might legitimize and promote bicycling. Much of this Article draws upon the research I have done for the League of American Bicyclists, digesting every state law mentioning bicycling and compiling my findings in 2012. (3)

Many traffic laws in place today are related to the Uniform Vehicle Code (UVC). The UVC was created in 1926 by the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Laws and Ordinances (NCUTLO). (4) The National Council on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (NCUTCD) and NCUTLO have been tied together through their history, including the early creation of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices and Uniform Vehicle Code. (5) In the early 2000's, the NCUTLO ceased operations and no longer maintains the UVC. (6) Since that time, the NCUTCD has taken steps to update the UVC. (7) The last version of the UVC was published in 2000. (8) It is not clear at this time whether the NCUTCD will be a long-term replacement for the NCUTLO or whether an alternative body or system for state traffic law coordination will emerge. Whatever the future holds, organizations will continue to pursue uniformity in traffic laws to aid public education, messaging, and the ability to safely travel between the states.

While the NCUTLO was active, it published periodic reviews of traffic laws to promote uniformity throughout the nation. While the publication of such comprehensive reviews is historically inconsistent, (9) at least two are publicly available through online resources such as Google Books. (10) This Article will use two NCUTLO publications, Traffic Laws Annotated 1972 and 1979 (collectively, "Traffic Laws Annotated"),

to look at the evolution of traffic laws as documented by those publications and the state of traffic laws relevant to bicyclists as reviewed in those publications. (11) Since the 1970s, there has been significantly less publicly available, organized documentation of traffic laws and their conformity with the UVC or with alternative standards. (12) In addition to the above highlighted laws, this Article will rely upon four additional publications. (13)

In 1982, Edward Kearney, at that the time the Executive Director of the NCUTLO and later author of Bicycle Law and Practice, (14) wrote an article for American Wheelmen magazine titled What's the Legal Climate for Bicyclists in Your State? (15) That article looks at ten different types of traffic laws and compares them to UVC provisions using a ten-point scoring system with unique scoring criteria for each type of law. (16) In some cases, the scoring system makes it obvious what the state's law says, but in others there are multiple ways in which states could achieve the same score, making it difficult to know what a particular score means. …

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