Staying Safe and Legal: Cycling Laws in Pennsylvania

Cycling can be a quick and healthy way to get about town. But, when driving on the road, you are the little guy and your safety is paramount.

Knowing the law is the first step in ensuring your safety on the road. In Pennsylvania, the law treats a cyclist as a vehicle, and so you’re governed by the same traffic laws as other road users, plus specific cycling laws also apply to you.

So there’s a lot to think about when you take to the road on your bike. Here’s a quick rundown to help you on your way.

Safety First

If you were to get into an accident, protecting your head can make a huge different to any injuries that may be caused. Pennsylvania law states cyclists under age 12 are required to wear an approved cycle helmet. Although no laws govern helmet use for over 12’s, they are recommended for all cyclists.

Many accidents occur at night as bikes can be difficult for motorists to see.  There are lots of safety devices available to help keep you safe, but as a minimum you must have:

  • A headlight fitted to the front of your bike. It must emit a white light that’s visible from a distance of at least 500 feet
  • A red reflector on the back which can be seen from the same distance
  • Amber reflectors on either side of your bike.

Obeying Traffic Laws

Where to ride on the road

You must ride in the right hand lane available for traffic, with some notable exceptions:

  • When you’re overtaking another vehicle
  • When you’re preparing to turn left at a junction
  • Where part of the road is unsafe due to surface conditions
  • If the road is just a single lane in each direction (you should keep to the right as far as is possible)
  • You can ride on the left hand side of a one-way street if it has two lanes or more

As a general rule, you must obey traffic signs and traffic lights; although, there is an exception to this rule also. If a traffic light doesn’t detect your bicycle and remains on red, you are legally permitted to proceed through the light, provided it is safe to do so. Cyclists should treat the traffic light as a ‘stop’ sign.

Other vehicles have a responsibility to your safety and must leave a 4-foot gap between you when overtaking.

Your Behavior

Don’t ride under the influence of drink or other controlled substance, and don’t use a mobile phone when cycling. Anything that impairs your awareness and co-ordination can be dangerous for yourself and those travelling around you.

You shouldn’t carry passengers on your bike if it’s only designed or equipped for 1 person. You can add a child seat as long as it conforms to safety standards, but if your passenger is under 12, he must wear a safety helmet.

Further safety laws limit you to riding no more than 2 bicycles abreast on the road (this doesn’t apply on dedicated cycle paths), and requires you to be able to keep one handle on the handlebars at all times (you aren’t allowed to carry any package which would prevent you from doing so).

Riding on the Sidewalk

You’re permitted to ride on sidewalks, but pedestrians have right of way. You need a bell, or other device, on your bike to warn pedestrians you’re approaching them.

You aren’t allowed to use a sidewalk in a business district, unless there are traffic controls which specifically allow you to. Where a bicycle only lane is available, of course you are permitted to use that.

Parking

The general rule when parking your bike is not to obstruct pedestrians or motorists. You can park your bicycle on a sidewalk as long as it doesn’t obstruct pedestrians, and by the curb where parking is permitted for all road users, as long as it doesn’t obstruct other vehicles.

There’s a lot to Think About

There are a lot of do’s, don’ts and musts when considering the laws of safe cycling. Pennsylvania law is in place to ensure your safety, but there is so much you can do to help stay safe on the road; educating yourself on the rules of the road is just the start.

Make use of safety equipment wherever possible and make sure you are seen. Remember, you’re likely to come off worse in any collision.