Bike Laws in Virginia

Virginia Flag

Virginia is a popular state to enjoy many recreational activities, including, of course, cycling! Furthermore, there is nothing strange to keep in mind with the laws in Virginia around cycling. The main thing to bear in mind is that while state law does not force riders to wear a helmet, municipal laws in several cities and counties does, so it’s important to understand how your local laws will affect your riding. Otherwise, what should you know about the bike laws in Virginia?

Bikes and Cars

Virginia does not specifically define a bicycle, unlike many other states which define one down to the number of wheels. However, a motor vehicle definition does not include bikes and riders are considered ‘vulnerable users’, which helps to show a difference in the laws between motor vehicles and bikes by putting the user as the defining feature. As a result of this, Virginia has things like vulnerable user laws and riders of bikes have all the rights and duties of a driver except where it wouldn’t make sense for that to be under law. That being said, the laws in Virginia surrounding bikes does define a bike as being one propelled solely by human power (as opposed to e-bikes), have two or more wheels in tandem and that it is a vehicle while it is being used on the highway. While being used on a sidewalk, cyclists have the same rights and duties as pedestrians.

Vulnerable road user laws also cover safe passing laws. In Virginia, motorists must leave at least three feet of clearance between themselves and the cyclist while passing and cannot go back to the right side of the highway until safely beyond the bike. Furthermore, on July 1, 2016, Virginia passed a dooring law which made it so that drivers could not open the door of their parked vehicle on the same side of moving traffic until it was safe to do so.

Cyclists must mind where they are riding in turn because in a collision in between a bike and a moving car, the car will win every time. When riding on the road, cyclists must keep the following in mind:

  • Cyclists must ride with the flow of traffic, on the right side of the highway. Riders have to make sure they ride as close as possible to the right curb or edge of the road, except in the following circumstances:
    • When passing another vehicle going in the same direction
    • When preparing for a left turn (doesn’t matter to where)
    • To avoid unsafe conditions
    • To avoid riding in a lane that turns to the right
    • If you’re riding on a one-way street where you’re allowed to ride to the left or if the lane is too narrow to share with a motor vehicle
  • Cyclists may ride on the highway shoulder
  • Cyclists may not ride between two lanes of traffic going in the same direction unless one of the lanes is a turn lane
  • Cyclists cannot ride more than two abreast on highways and they can only ride two abreast if doing so won’t impede traffic
  • Interstate and some controlled access highways tend to be prohibited to cyclists unless there are barrier-separated facilities
  • Cyclists can ride on sidewalks unless prohibited by local laws or traffic control devices. They are then treated as pedestrians, but must yield to pedestrians and give an audible signal when passing

All in all, Virginia is pretty easy going about where cyclists can ride, so long as they are riding with traffic and not in such a way that they become easy to strike.

Safety Equipment While Riding

State law in Virginia does not mandate the use of helmets by any riders, no matter how young or old they are. However, many counties and cities do require that riders aged fourteen or younger wear a helmet while riding in public (highways, sidewalks, or public paths). These include the counties of:

  • Albemarle
  • Amherst
  • Arlington
  • Clarke
  • Fairfax
  • Floyd
  • Orange
  • James City
  • Prince William
  • York

And the cities:

  • Alexandria
  • Buena Vista
  • Charlottesville
  • Fairfax
  • Falls Church
  • Hampton
  • Harrisonburg
  • Manassas
  • Manassas Park
  • Newport News
  • Norfolk
  • Petersburg
  • Radford
  • Roanoke
  • Salem
  • Virginia Beach
  • Waynesboro
  • Williamsburg

And the following incorporated towns:

  • Berryville
  • Blacksburg
  • Christiansburg
  • Colonial Beach
  • Culpeper
  • Farmville
  • Front Royal
  • Gordonsville
  • Kilamarnock
  • Leesburg
  • Luray
  • Purcellville
  • Quantico
  • Vienna

People who do not wear their helmets and are caught may be subject to fines. It’s important to check on your local laws before riding to see what they have to say about helmet use.

Otherwise, the main thing to keep in mind is that bikes which are to be ridden between sunset and sunrise must have at least one white headlamp that is visible from at least 500 feet and a red reflector on the rears which is visible from at least six hundred feet. If the speed limit on the road is thirty-five miles per hour or greater, the bike must also have a red taillight visible from five hundred feet to the rear.

Virginia law also covers what cyclists are supposed to do in cases of an accident. If you are in an accident involving death, injury or property damage, you must stop, give your name and address to the police and to anyone involved in the accident or the property owner. If the owner isn’t around, the cyclist has to leave an obvious note and report the accident to the police within twenty-four hours.

E-Bikes in Virginia

Electric bikes are largely lumped under bikes in Virginia with a couple of notable exceptions. Electric bikes are defined as a bike that has a motor of no more than 750W and will travel no faster than twenty-five miles per hour. Riders have to be at least fourteen years of age and riders under the age of sixteen must wear a helmet. Electric bikes can be ridden on all roadways if the posted speed limit is less than twenty-five miles per hour and on all bike paths so long as they yield to pedestrians. E-bikes don’t have to licensed or registered.

The main thing to keep in mind when riding your bike in Virginia is the importance of many municipal laws adding to the state laws, specifically regarding helmets. It’s also important to note that speed limits on roads may have an impact on how you ride (and even what you ride!) Otherwise, most of the bike laws in Virginia are standard compared to other states and should come as no real surprise. Enjoy the ride!

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