New Hampshire handles bicycles a little differently than many other states do. From DUI/DWI laws to sidewalk laws, New Hampshire runs on a slightly different level and so it’s important to be aware of the bike laws in New Hampshire before you run the risk of running afoul of them. While these laws may at first seem arduous to you, it’s important to note that they are for your safety and furthermore, New Hampshire ranks fourteenth in the states for bike safety and friendliness! If you’re looking to start cycling around the state, what should you know to stay legal and safe?
Bikes as Vehicles
Many states consider bikes to be vehicles; however, many of the laws around vehicles still do not pertain to bikes. This is not the case in New Hampshire where bikes are considered vehicles and as such, are bound by the same laws as vehicles. This is illustrated by the DWI and DUI laws in New Hampshire. Cyclists who are cycling under the influence or while intoxicated suffer the same fines and penalties as a driver who is found guilty of a DUI/DWI, including the loss of a driver’s license! This is rare in the United States where most states don’t care if cyclists ride while drunk or under the influence.
The other place where bikes and vehicle law meet is in sidewalk riding. In New Hampshire, it is simply illegal to ride your bike on the sidewalk except where a driveway (temporary or permanent) crosses the sidewalk area. Again, most other states do allow for sidewalk riding except in business districts, but New Hampshire really does treat its cyclists as drivers, with more of the duties, obligations, and legalities crossing from four wheels to two.
And finally, police can inspect your bike to ensure the brakes, wheels and everything else is in good working order. So, make sure to stay on top of your bike maintenance! Furthermore, New Hampshire allows city and towns to make their own bylaws and regulations, so long as they are at least as tight as the state laws. Bike can be licensed for example, and towns can charge fees for it. This means that if you’re biking in a town, make sure to check for any bylaws beyond the state ones.
Where Bikes Can Be Ridden
Bikes in New Hampshire must be ridden as far to the right as possible, except under the following conditions:
- When passing another bike or another vehicle going in the same direction
- When going straight in a place where right turns are legal
- When going too far to the right would expose the rider to dangers like objects, vehicles, other bikes, pedestrians, animals, broken pavement, glass, sand, puddles, ice, or car doors opening
- When turning left at an intersection or driveway.
New Hampshire does observe the usual dooring laws which specify that people cannot open the door of their vehicle into moving traffic until it is safe to do it and never for very long. However, it still behooves cyclists to pay attention to what parked cars are doing to help prevent accidents.
New Hampshire does not observe the Idaho stop law, meaning that if a cyclist doesn’t trip the red-light sensor, they still must wait until someone else does and can only cross the street on a green light. Cyclists are to obey all traffic rules, lights, and road signs. However, there is one area where cyclists are considered pedestrians: cars have to yield to cyclists just like they would pedestrians. New Hampshire also observes safe passing laws and takes it a step further. Cars have to leave at least 3 feet of distance when travelling at 30mp/h or less and then an additional foot of clearance for every 10 miles per hour above that, which a step above and beyond what many other states do.
New Hampshire does not require the use of separated bike paths or bike lanes when they are available, though it may be beneficial to ride on them simply because they are a little quieter and safer. However, cyclists are under no obligation to do so.
New Hampshire has a good record of keeping cyclists safe and part of this is due to the strict laws around riding. Section 265:144 goes over the safety considerations cyclists must observe while riding, including:
I: No riding on any part of the bike that isn’t a permanent and regular seat
III: No attaching yourself to a vehicle on the highway (same goes for coasters, roller skates, skateboards, sleds, or toy cars).
IV: No carrying a package or anything that prevents the rider from keeping at least one hand on the handlebars.
And the important one:
X: “No person less than 16 years of age may operate or ride a bicycle on a public way unless he or she wears protective headgear…”
Of course, we always endorse wearing a helmet anyway, but New Hampshire enshrines this for riders under the age of sixteen. While it’s not illegal to ride without a helmet if you’re older than sixteen, it’s still a good idea to wear one as it may save your life one day!
New Hampshire is even more stringent about riding at night safely than other states. Cyclists must wear a reflective vest, jacket, or helmet strip while riding between sunset and sunrise and the bike has to be equipped with a headlamp that can emit a white light visible from up to 300 feet in front and a red reflector in the back visible from a distance of 300 feet. Bikes also must be equipped with pedal reflectors that are visible from 200 feet and reflective equipment on the legs or shoes of the rider. So, make sure you’re good and visible while you ride at night!
Bikes also must be equipped with a brake that can stop the bike within twenty-five feet while being ridden at 10mp/h on dry, level pavement. But it’s illegal to ride a bike that is equipped with a siren.
As you can see, bike laws in New Hampshire are more stringent in many ways than other states, but this has led to New Hampshire being one of the safer and bike friendlier states in the US. Just make sure that you stay aware of these laws so that you don’t run into trouble and can stay safe. Enjoy!