Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Pa Bike Laws - Know the Rules of the Road

Bicycling on the road can be dangerous.  Unexpected road conditions, inclement weather, distracted drivers, and inattentive passengers exiting from parked vehicles can present serious hazards. Knowing the "Rules of the Road" can help to reduce the risks of these hazards and keep you safe for that next ride.    


Here are some of the pertinent rules to know next time you hit the road. 


          I.                   Bicycles are “Vehicles.”


             Under the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Code, Title 75, vehicles propelled solely by human-powered pedals are considered “pedacycles.”[1]  Pedacycles are “vehicles” for purposes of the Motor Vehicle Code, but they are not “motor vehicles.”[2]  Because bicycles are propelled by human-powered pedals, cyclists are considered to be operating “vehicles” upon the roadways and, therefore, they are generally afforded all of the rights of the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Code, but they are also subject to all of the duties applicable to motorists.[3]

            The distinction between a “vehicle” and “motor vehicle” is important to cyclists because the operator of a pedacycle is subject to prosecution for “driving under the influence” of alcohol or other controlled substances.[4]  However, because a pedacycle is not a “motor vehicle,” the implied consent law (under which motor vehicle operators are deemed to have given consent to one or more chemical tests of breath, blood, or urine for the purpose of determining the alcoholic content of blood) is not applicable to cyclists.[5]  Also, evidence of the consumption of alcohol by a cyclist is inadmissible at trial as unfairly prejudicial, unless the evidence reasonably establishes intoxication. [6]  Evidence of intoxication for a cyclist includes, but is not limited to, objective criteria such as staggering, stumbling, slurred speech, or erratic operation of the bike.[7]  It would not be difficult for a trained police officer to meet the burden of establishing intoxication.  Therefore, it is best to avoid drinking and riding.


          II.                Stay to the Right, Mostly.


            When riding a bicycle on the roadways, it is lawful – and always best – unless otherwise impractical or unsafe, to ride on the right-hand side of the road or upon the shoulder.  Motorists expect cyclists to keep to the right (unless the cyclist is passing another vehicle or attempting to make a left turn) and, therefore, this is the safest location to ride.      


            Under the Motor Vehicle Code, bicycles may be ridden on the shoulders of roads, in the same direction as traffic upon the roads, and may be operated at speeds slower than prevailing speeds.[8]  If a cyclist is travelling at a speed slower than the prevailing speed of traffic, he or she should operate in the right-hand lane or as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway unless passing another vehicle or preparing to make a left turn at an intersection or into an alley, road, or driveway.[9] 

            Cyclists do not always have to travel in the right-hand lane or along the right-hand curb or edge of the road.  Rather, a cyclist may use more of the roadway if unsafe conditions exist or if the road is no wider than one lane of traffic in each direction.[10]  But, as a general matter, cyclists are moving slower than the prevailing speeds of traffic and should, therefore, keep to the right.

            For cyclists riding on the right-hand side of the road, caution must be exercised when riding near parked vehicles so that the rider may avoid suddenly and unexpectedly encountering an open car door.  The Motor Vehicle Code prohibits motorists from opening car doors unless it is reasonably safe to do so and can be done without interfering with the movement of other traffic.[11]  Further, the Code prohibits motorists from leaving car doors on the side of a vehicle available to moving traffic from being left open for any period of time longer than necessary to load or unload passengers.[12]  Courts have even held that although motorists and passengers in motor vehicles have the right to step out of their vehicles and onto the roadway, they have a duty to look for approaching traffic, including bicycles, and must continue to look when exiting a vehicle and exercise reasonable care under the circumstances.[13]  Notwithstanding these provisions of the Motor Vehicle Code, many motorists are likely unaware of these rules or they disregard them.  Therefore, it is essential that cyclists exercise caution for their own safety while passing vehicles parked along the right side of the road.  
  
III.             Riding Bicycles on the Left-Hand Side of the Road.

            Although bicycles should typically be ridden on the right-hand side of the road, or in the right lane, there are times when bicycles may lawfully be operated on the left-hand side of the road.  Cyclists riding on one-way streets that have two or more marked traffic lanes (all in the same direction of travel) may ride as near the left-hand curb or edge of the roadway as practicable, exercising due care when passing a standing vehicle or one proceeding in the same direction.[14]  Also, if a cyclist – while riding in the right-hand lane or as near to the right-hand curb of the road as practicable – is overtaking another vehicle (e.g., a car or another bicycle), the rider must pass to the left of the other vehicle at a safe distance and stay to the left of the other vehicle until safely clear of the overtaken vehicle. [15]  This rule applies to motor vehicles passing cyclists traveling on the road.[16] 

            Note: Pennsylvania law requires an operator of a motor vehicle who is overtaking a cyclist proceeding in the same direction as the motorist to pass to the left of the cyclist at a distance not less than four feet at a careful and prudent reduced speed.[17]  

IV.             Riding Side-By-Side on the Roads

            When riding on highways, cyclists are not permitted to ride more than two abreast.[18]  This restriction does not apply to cyclists riding on paths or parts of the road set aside for the exclusive use of pedacylces. 

Note: In Philadelphia, cyclists must ride single file upon all roadways.[19]  This restriction in Philadelphia does not apply to cyclists riding on paths or parts of the road set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles. 

V.                Riding on Sidewalks

            Unless permitted by “official traffic-control devices,” bicycles typically may not be ridden upon sidewalks in business districts.  If there is a usable pedacycle-only lane adjacent to a sidewalk, bicycles must be ridden in the bike lane and not upon the sidewalk.[20]  If a cyclist is properly riding on a sidewalk, or any other path that is also used by pedestrians, the cyclist must yield the right-of-way to pedestrians and give an audible signal before overtaking or passing any pedestrian.[21]  In Philadelphia, no person 12 years of age or older may ride a bicycle upon any sidewalk in any district.[22] 

       VI.             Riding Without a Helmet

            Generally, it is only unlawful for a person under 12 years of age to ride a bicycle without a helmet.[23]  Violation of this law may result in a fine to the parents or guardians of the youth of no more than $25.00.[24] 

            Although it is unlawful for an individual under 12 years of age to ride a bicycle without a helmet, the fact that a cyclist was not wearing a helmet may not be used as evidence against the cyclist in any civil lawsuit to establish contributory negligence or for any other reason.[25]  Thus, if a cyclist is injured while riding a bicycle without a helmet, evidence of the fact that he or she was not wearing a helmet at the time of the accident causing his or her injuries is not admissible in any civil lawsuit.  The term “wearing a pedalcycle helmet” means having a pedalcycle helmet of good fit fastened securely upon the head with the helmet straps.[26]

VII.          Lamps, Reflectors, and Other Equipment

            If a cyclist is riding between sunset and sunrise, he or she must have a headlamp that emits a beam of white light intended to illuminate the cyclist’s path and be visible from a distance of at least 500 feet to the front. [27]  The cyclist must also have a red reflector facing to the rear which is visible at least 500 feet, and an amber reflector on each side of the bicycle.[28]  Cyclists can supplement the required front and rear lamps/reflectors, but the front lamp must emit a white beam or light, and the rear lamp must emit a red beam or light.[29]  Any supplemental lamps or reflectors worn by the rider should be capable of being seen from at least 500 feet to the front and 500 feet to the rear of the bicycle.   

            Pedacycles operating on the roads must have brakes capable of stopping the pedacylce within 15 feet from an initial speed of 15 miles per hour on dry, level, and clean pavement.[30]  Also, cyclists may equip their bikes with an audible device that is capable of providing an audible signal from at least 100 feet away. [31]  But cyclists may not equip their bikes with sirens (unfortunately!).   
  
VIII.       Cyclists Have a Duty to Ride Their Bicycles Safely

            With only a few minor exceptions, every person operating a bicycle upon a highway must obey the applicable rules of the road as contained in the Motor Vehicle Code.  That means that a bicycle rider has the same duty as any other vehicle operator to keep the vehicle under such control that he can stop or turn it to avoid collisions.[32]  A cyclist cannot “willy-nilly” run his bike into a standing vehicle and then recover damages for his resulting injury.[33] 

            The fact of whether or not a cyclist was keeping his/her bicycle under control is likely to be a question for a jury in any civil lawsuit.  In one case, the court held that where the cyclist saw a parked automobile 75 feet away and knew that his view around a curve was obstructed, the cyclist was bound to realize that he would not be able to determine whether or not he could pass the automobile safely until he was almost upon it.[34]  The court held that the cyclist’s “clear duty was to bring his bicycle under such control that he could stop behind the parked automobile and not run into it if the necessity, created by a vehicle approaching in the opposite direction, should develop.”[35] 

            With regard to the age of the rider, courts have held that a boy of fifteen years of age is deemed to be sufficiently capable of appreciating the dangers incident to bicycle riding to convict him, in a proper case, of contributory negligence as a matter of law.[36] 

            NoteIn Philadelphia, the use of headphones connected to an audio device while operating a bicycle is prohibited.[37]  Also, with only limited exceptions, bicycles are not permitted to be operated on freeways.[38]  Freeways are defined by the Motor Vehicle Code as limited access highways to which the only means of ingress and egress are by interchange ramps.[39]  Highways are defined by the Motor Vehicle Code as “the entire width between the boundary lines of every way publicly maintained when any part thereof is open to the use of the public for purposes of vehicular travel.”[40] 





Matthew F. Dolfi, Esquire

Dolfi Law PC
BNY Mellon Center
500 Grant Street, Suite 2900
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15219
412-227-9724

Website:
www.dolfilawpc.com

Facebook page:
https://www.facebook.com/PghBikeLawyer


Important notice:
The information provided in this blog article is not legal advice.  The information and opinions provided herein are solely for the general interest of the visitors to this website.  The information contained herein is only applicable to general principles of law in Pennsylvania and may not reflect current legal developments or statutory changes in various other jurisdictions.  Therefore, the information and opinions contained in this blog should not be relied upon or interpreted as legal advice.  No aspect of this blog article should be interpreted as establishing an attorney-client relationship between the reader and its author.  Anyone reviewing this article should not act upon any information contained herein without first seeking the advice of legal counsel.  
 

Search terms: Bicycle accident cases and lawsuits, Bicycle collisions, Bicycle safety, Bike accident lawsuits, Bike accidents, Bike collisions, Risks for bicycle riders, accident attorney, accident lawyer, bicycle, bicycle accident laws, bicycle accident, bicycle accident attorney, bicycle risks, bicycle safety, bike accident, cycling, defective road conditions, dangerous roads, dangerous streets, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Matthew F. Dolfi, Matt Dolfi, Pittsburgh Bike Lawyer, Pittsburgh Bike Accident, lawyer-cyclist, The Lawyer Cyclist, dolfilaw, Dolfi Law PC





[1]  75 Pa.C.S. § 102      
[2]  Kronenbitter v. Com., Dept. of Transp., Bureau of Driver Licensing, 615 A.2d 949 (Pa. Commw. 1992).
[3]  75 Pa.C.S. § 3501(a)
[4]  Com. v. Brown, 620 A.2d 1213 (Pa. Super. 1993)
[5]  75 Pa.C.S. § 1547(a); Com. v. Sheriff, 7 Pa. D. & C.4th 201 (C.P. 1990), aff'd, 414 Pa. Super. 652, 598 A.2d 1333 (1991)
[6]  Locke v. Claypool, 426 Pa. Super. 528, 627 A.2d 801 (1993)
[7]  Id.
[8]  75 Pa.C.S. § 3505(b)-(c)
[9]  75 Pa.C.S. § 3301(c)(1)
[10]  75 Pa.C.S. § 3301(c)(2)(i)-(ii)
[11]  75 Pa.C.S. § 3705
[12]  Id.
[13]  Heath v. Klosterman, 23 A.2d 209 (Pa. 1941).
[14]  75 Pa.C.S. § 3505(d)
[15]  75 Pa.C.S. § 3303(a)(1)
[16]  Id.
[17]  75 Pa.C.S. § 3303(3)
[18]  75 Pa.C.S. § 3505(e)
[19]  The Philadelphia Code, Title 12, § 12-804
[20]  75 Pa.C.S. § 3508(b)
[21]  75 Pa.C.S. § 3508(a)
[22]  The Philadelphia Code, Title 12, § 12-808(2)
[23]  75 Pa.C.S. § 3510(a)
[24]  75 Pa.C.S. § 3510(d)
[25]  75 Pa.C.S. § 3510(c)
[26]  75 Pa.C.S. § 3510(e)
[27]  75 Pa.C.S. § 3507(a)
[28]  Id.
[29]  Id.
[30]  75 Pa.C.S. § 3507(c)
[31] 75 Pa.C.S. § 3507(b)

[32]  Gallenz v. Griffiths, 38 A.2d 721 (Pa. Super. 1944) (citing Mehler v. Doyle, 115 A. 797 (Pa. 1922)). 
[33]  Id. (citing Simrell v. Eschenbach, 154 A. 369 (Pa. 1931)).  
[34]  Id.
[35]  Id.
[36]  Id. (citing Geiger v. Garrett, 113 A. 195 (Pa. 1921)).
[37]  The Philadelphia Code, Title 12, § 12-812(1).
[38]  75 Pa.C. § 3511(a).
[39]  75 Pa.C. § 102.
[40]  Id.

4 comments:

  1. "bicycles typically may not be ridden upon sidewalks in business districts."
    I've seen this statement in many places, but I don't understand what makes an area a business district. Does this refer to sidewalks with businesses on them (e.g. Forbes Ave, S Highland Ave), or is there a strict legal definition of what constitutes a business district (e.g. congressional district 14)?

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