By Steve Magas
The Bike Lawyer
National Bike Month is a celebration of bicycling held every year in May. Established in 1956, the designation encourages people to get on their bicycles and ride to work, to school or just for fun! Bike Month is also about increasing awareness of cycling safety and whether you are a veteran of two-wheeled transport, a recreational rider or a motorist, it is important to know the rules of the road when it comes to bikes.
The law and bicycles
Bicycles are defined as "vehicles" under Ohio Law. State law allows bicycles be lawfully operated on virtually all Ohio roads except freeways or certain limited access roadways. Therefore, cyclists who ride their bikes on roadways are in line with Ohio law.
"Same rights, same roads, same rules" is the mantra cyclists follow. Like all states, Ohio law requires cyclists to follow the basic rules of the road when riding a bicycle on a roadway. Like any vehicle operator, a bicyclist must ride with traffic, obey basic traffic laws, stop at stop signs and red lights, and follow all traffic control devices. When following the rules of the road, a cyclist has exactly the same "right of way" as any car, truck or bus driver.
Ohio does have a few bike-specific laws. The key "bike law" in Ohio states that a bicycle must be operated "as near to the right side of the roadway as practicable." While the word "practicable" is undefined, the law states that a cyclist does not have to ride along the right side of the lane when it is "unreasonable or unsafe to do so." Some examples of when a cyclist may use the entire lane include when it is necessary to avoid fixed objects or parked cars, surface hazards, or moving vehicles. A big exception to the ride-to-the-right rule is if the lane is "…too narrow for the bicycle and an overtaking vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane." In such a situation, the cyclist is not required to stay to the right.
Cyclists are also permitted to ride "two abreast," meaning side-by-side, in the same lane. Ohio law does not require cyclists to move out of the way of faster traffic.
Like all vehicle owners, cyclists must abide by certain equipment requirements when riding on the roadway. They must use a white light on the front of the bike and both a red reflector and a red light in the rear between sunset and sunrise or whenever the weather makes lights necessary. This is important since many serious or fatal crashes occur at night or when weather causes poor visibility. Some cities may have other equipment requirements written into their municipal codes. Dayton, for instance, requires all cyclists to wear helmets and to equip their bike with a bell that is audible for up to 100 feet.
Vehicles and bicycles
Traffic law allows motorists to cross a double yellow line to pass any slower vehicle, but only if the slower vehicle is traveling at less than the posted speed limit; the faster vehicle is capable of passing the slower vehicle without exceeding the posted speed limit; and there is sufficient sight distance ahead to permit the passing maneuver to be safely accomplished, taking into account the speed of the slower vehicle.
This is not specifically a bicycle law, but rather a law that covers passing vehicles such as slower moving tractors and Amish buggies. However, it does apply to bicycles. If a motorist can follow the listed rules to pass a cyclist while crossing a double yellow line, they are free to do so.
Other bike law info
Ohio law does not include an age limit or age requirement for riding bicycles on a roadway so children can technically ride bikes in the street. However, riders of all ages must follow the rules of the road. Parents should evaluate children's riding abilities, educate them about cycling rules and make sure the child can ride safely and predictably.
Under state law, "bike bans" that force cyclists to use sidewalks instead of roads are prohibited everywhere in Ohio. In fact, many cities, especially Ohio's larger cities, do not permit sidewalk cycling at all. But local laws vary widely. Some cities impose age limits or only ban sidewalk riding in defined "business districts." Check your local city ordinances to see if and where sidewalk riding is allowed. (Here are a few: Columbus, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dayton.)
Cyclists are also not required to use bike lanes. These lanes are typically created by local governments and are not governed specifically by state law. State law mandates only that cities may not force cyclists to use sidewalks or "sidepaths" (bike trails that are not part of the roadway). Regular road cyclists may find that bike lanes contain dangerous debris and they may use these lanes at their discretion.
Injury and legal help
Cyclists who are injured by negligent motorists often wonder what type of insurance applies to their claims. If a motorist carelessly injures a cyclist, the motorist's auto policy would apply to pay the claim. However, some cyclists are often surprised to learn that their own auto insurance may come into play, as well as their own homeowner's insurance, health insurance and any "umbrella" or excess coverage they may have. Before moving forward with any such claim, it is important to consult with an attorney who can help a client go over insurance claims, equipment damages and deal with the motorist's lawyer and insurance representatives.
About Steve Magas
Attorney Steve Magas is an avid bicyclist, motorcyclist and Ohio trial attorney based in Cincinnati, Ohio. Known as "Ohio's Bike Lawyer," Magas has been an Ohio trial lawyer since 1982 and has been writing about Ohio's Bike Laws since the mid-1980's. He collaborates regularly with the League of American Bicyclists, the Ohio Bicycle Federation and the Cincinnati Cycle Club. In addition to working with riders throughout Ohio, Magas has been called into bike cases around the country, including cases in Kentucky, Indiana, Florida, Virginia, New Jersey, North Carolina, Maryland and Pennsylvania. In 2009, he founded The Magas Firm.