Pennsylvania has many of the same bike laws as most other states in the United States, but there are a few noteworthy things which make the state stand out differently from others. It’s also important to know the difference between the state laws and any municipal laws as you may find that drivers do not always know the difference and many police may not either! Despite this, in some ways Pennsylvania has some of the safer laws for cyclists, making it an attractive state to ride in. What should you know about the bike laws in Pennsylvania?
Bikes and Other Vehicles on the Road
Under Pennsylvania law, bikes are considered vehicles since the law considers vehicles propelled solely by human-powered pedal or electric assist to be vehicles. (75 Pennsylvania. Cons. Stat 102). This means that cyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as other drivers on the road, excepting in cases where it would be impractical or unreasonable to expect it (such as bikes going at fifty miles an hour!)
Bikes must be ridden in the right-hand lane or as close as practical to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway. This is fairly typical of just about anywhere in the United States where cyclists ride. The exceptions to this are as follows:
- If the cyclist is overtaking and passing another vehicle passing in the same direction
- If the cyclist is preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into an alley, private road, or driveway
- If the right side of the road is too unsafe to ride on
- If the roadway has only one lane of traffic going either way
Pennsylvania does not specifically state what unsafe means or by who’s definition, so it’s important to keep your safety in mind, both in terms of the road conditions and the traffic around you. Pennsylvania also notes that you can ride in the middle of the street if there is no shoulder or there are parked cars in the shoulder because that means you have one lane of traffic.
Cyclists are allowed to ride on sidewalks, but they must yield to pedestrians and give an auditory signal when passing. They are also not allowed to be ridden in any business districts unless a traffic control device says otherwise, and they aren’t allowed on sidewalks if there is a useable bike lane beside the sidewalk. But they don’t have to use a different bike lane or path than regular traffic unless the cyclist wants to. Cyclists may ride two abreast, but no more than that unless the riders are on a bike path or an exclusive part of the road for bikes.
Pennsylvania has an additional safety feature that many states do not. While many states have a safe passing law of two to three feet between cyclists and drivers, in Pennsylvania, it’s four feet. Pennsylvania is also one of the few states which requires a passing vehicle to reduce its speed while passing in order to keep everyone safe. Pennsylvania also requires that vehicles turning right do not cross over the path of a cyclist, which is a distinction from other states as well (75 Pennsylvania Const. Stat 3331).
Pennsylvania also observes the Idaho Stop which means that if a cyclist is not picked up by the traffic light, he or she can go through a red light, assuming that it’s safe to do so. If the cyclist is injured in a crash or gets a ticket, it’s not the cyclist’s fault, it’s the fault of the one who put in the detector on the lights. (Pennsylvania Bicycle Driver’s Manual). This helps to move traffic along and protects the cyclist from a ticket if they decide to go through rather than continue to wait and hope for the best.
Finally, Pennsylvania does have a Share the Road license plate program, but no vulnerable road user laws.
Safety Equipment While Riding
Pennsylvania does have bike helmet laws for riders under the age of 12 ad states that anyone under that age riding a bike as the operator or passenger must wear a helmet. However, not wearing a helmet can’t be used as evidence of contributory negligence in a trial, so while you should wear a helmet, there’s not much of a legal punishment if you don’t. (Physical on the other hand is another matter! We would never recommend riding without a helmet as it cuts the chances of serious injury far back).
When riding at night, bikes must be equipped with a front lamp that will emit a white light visible from at least five hundred feet and a red reflector in the rear that is visible from at least five hundred feet. Amber reflectors also must be put on both sides of the bike. Bikes also have to be equipped with brakes that can stop the bike fifteen feet from a speed of fifteen miles per hour on dry, level pavement. It’s also important to check local law because some municipalities require that a bike has a bell or some other auditory device.
Interestingly, Pennsylvania prohibits riders from wearing headphones or earbuds. Distracted driving laws such as riding while drinking or under the influence of drugs also affect bikes since they are considered vehicles under law.
Electric Bikes in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania laws don’t have much about electric bikes (there is more on Mopeds and motorcycles). In Pennsylvania, an electric bikes is defined as a bike with a motor that is 750 watts or less and propels the bike at speeds up to 20 miles per hour. A driver’s license is not required, but riders must be at least sixteen years of age.
As you can see, many of Pennsylvania bike laws are like laws all over the country, but there are enough differences which makes it important to know the laws before you ride. This isn’t just for your protection, it’s also so that you know your rights and duties under law in cases of working with the police or defending yourself from a traffic ticket. It’s also always a good idea to check your municipal laws as sometimes there will be extra things that don’t happen on the state level. If you know your rights and duties and are careful, you can have a lot of fun riding in Pennsylvania, so enjoy!