OHIO’S BIKE LAWS
OHIO’S BIKE LAWS
by Steven M. Magas, Attorney At Law
BICYCLING LAWS IN OHIO
OK troops, first a pop quiz. Answer the following true/false questions. No fair peeking at your copy of the Ohio Revised Code.
TRUE OR FALSE
1. Bicycles are not defined as “vehicles” under Ohio law.
2. Cyclists cannot be cited for speeding or drunk driving.
3. Cyclists are never required to carry or use any sort of horn or other noise making device.
4. Cyclists may legally ride on the roadway after dark without a light.
5. Cyclists may legally ride facing oncoming traffic.
Well, if you answered “True” to any of these questions, you flunk this exam and must retake Bike – Ed. 101. The answer to each question is “False.” As discussed below, the answers are all found in obscure provisions of the Ohio Revised Code.
ORC Section 4511.01(A) – Defines “vehicles” to include “bicycles.” This very important statute has the impact of making all laws restricting the behavior of “vehicle operators” applicable to cyclists. By defining “vehicles” to include bikes, the legislature has indicated its approval of bikes as transportation devices with a place on the roadway. This definition means that virtually every traffic law, including speeding, drunk driving, traffic control device rules, reckless operation, passing rules and the like, apply to motorists and cyclists alike. Cyclists are required to ride in the proper lane, are not permitted to ride “against traffic” and, generally, must act like any other vehicle on the roadway.
ORC Section 4511.52 – This section specifically makes all traffic laws applicable to bicycles whenever a bike is operated on any road or “any path set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles.” Thus, you can be cited by the police for reckless operation, drunk driving, speeding and the like even while riding on a bike path!
ORC Section 4511.53 – Requires bike riders to only ride upon the “permanent and regular seat” attached to the bike and prohibits a cyclist from carrying any other person on a bike except upon a “firmly attached and regular seat.”
This section also:
-Prohibits bicycle operation where one hand cannot be kept on the handle bars due to your carrying any “package, bundle, or article.”
-Prohibits using a bike to “carry more persons at one time than the number for which it is designed and equipped”
ORC Section 4511.54 – Prohibits a cyclist from attaching his bike or himself to any other vehicle on the roadway. Thus, we are not permitted to grab onto those little ladders that are seen on the backs of conversion vans, and get pulled along as the van speeds away from a stoplight.
ORC Section 4511.55 – Requires cyclists to ride “as near to the right side of the roadway as practicable.” This section of the law is practically universal across the country and generates much concern among cyclists. As a practical matter, it rarely comes into play until there is an accident and a cyclist is hurt. The defense then typically argues that the cyclist was not riding “as far to the right as practicable” and was therefor in some way responsible for his or her own injuries. I have always argued, sometimes successfully, that this means “as far to the right as is reasonably safe to ride given the road conditions, traffic, and all other factors.” I argue that this gives us, at least, half the lane and does not bind us to within inches of the white line.
Section 4511.55 also permits cyclists to ride “two abreast” on the roadway except in bike lanes and on bike paths. There is a bit of a conflict with being permitted to ride two abreast and being required to “ride as far to the right as practicable.” I have always argued that since we are permitted to ride two abreast, we are entitled to use the entire lane when doing so — one half lane for each rider.
ORC Section 4511.56 – Defines lights and reflectors needed for night riding and requires:
- a “bell or other device capable of giving a signal audible for a distance of at least 100 feet.” [Sirens and whistles may not be used.]
-an “adequate brake” for roadway use (i.e., no track bikes on the road).
Oddly enough, ORC Section 4511.84 prohibits “motor vehicle” operators from wearing radio earphones, but does not apply to bicyclists since it is limited to “motor” vehicles. In fact, any law that pertains only to “motor vehicles” does not cover cyclists at all, since a bicycle is NOT a “motor vehicle.”
Any violation of Ohio’s traffic laws by a bike operator constitutes a minor misdemeanor for the first offense and a fourth degree misdemeanor if there is a second offense committed within one year. Each subsequent offense within one year is a third degree misdemeanor.
In addition to state statutes, many cities and towns throughout Ohio have passed local laws limiting the roads you can ride on, requiring the use of helmets, requiring bike registration or requiring you to ride on bike paths. Penalties range from a small fine to the impoundment of your bike. Some small burgs require all bikes operated within the burg limits to be properly registered with the local police. Failure to do so can result in the bike’s impoundment. These local variations of state law have generally been upheld because they are, generally, more harsh than state law. A local jurisdiction can probably not make a law that is less strict than the state law, but may go overboard if it so chooses!