Page revised 28 Oct 2005
This is an appeal to the Ohio Legislature from the Ohio Bicycle Federation for reform of traffic laws pertaining to bicycles. Many ideas were drawn from "Model Laws for Bicycles" developed through discussions with experienced cyclists on an international discussion list as well as from OBF members. The reform package was approved by the Ohio Bicycle Federation at their meeting on Jan. 21, 2001. Minor changes were approved Apr. 7, 2002 and Apr. 13, 2003. You can also get our proposals in handy booklet form.
The Ohio Highway Patrol and ODOT have reviewed our package, approving one of the priority reforms and five of the secondary proposals.
Line numbers from the bill are used in comments that appear in navy color text below. These comments explain the differences between our proposal and the bill as introduced.
The idea is to present a fairly complete set of reforms to the legislature separated into a small set of priority reforms and a larger set of less urgent issues. Political wisdom says: "If everything is a priority then nothing is a priority." It may take time and more than one iteration to get these reforms passed. Also, we need to watch any bills throughout their legislative journey because crippling amendments can be introduced any time, especially right at the end.
How to Help:
Please contact your state representative and state senator asking for their support of the reforms. Include a copy of the proposal booklet. If you feel confident enough in your cycling ability, offer to take a ride with them to demonstrate proper bicycle operation and how the law reforms will improve safety.
- Sample of letter to lawmakers.
- Proposal booklet.
- Find your Senator by entering your ZIP code.
- Find your Representative by entering your ZIP code.
The priority reforms include:
- Require uniformity of traffic laws for bicycles, as is required for other vehicles (§ 4511.06) and make it more difficult to ban bikes from the road. To see the problems caused by our present "crazy quilt" of local ordinances, see http://www.crankmail.com/Fred/sidewalk-laws.html
- Revise the "far right" rule, § 4511.55(A) and the "slow vehicle rule", § 4511.25(B) following an example of Pennsylvania and adding language from the UVC.
Note: We originally listed the priority reforms in the reverse order. As we studied problems with local ordinances, we concluded that non-uniform ordinances create the most serious problem.
Less urgent reforms:
- Prohibit "points" on the driver's license for bicycle offenses.
- Add exceptions for the hand signal requirement (4511.39)
- Clarify § 4511.22(A), the "Stopping or Slow Speed Rule"
- Add language-authorizing ODOT to grant exceptions to the ban for bikes on freeways.
- Add an exception to the "no passing zone" law (§ 4511.31) to reduce conflicts between fast & slower vehicles (per John Forester).
- Remove "nuisance requirements" (front reflectors, bells, etc.) that provide little safety benefit (§ 4511.56).
- Rename "Ohio Motor Vehicle Laws" to "Ohio Traffic Laws" and rename Chapter 4511 "Traffic Laws—Operation of Motor Vehicles" to "Traffic Laws—Operation of Vehicles"
- Clarify language to allow standing to pedal.
- Search Ohio Revised Code:
- Search parts of Pennsylvania Code (not official):
- Search California Code:
- Compilation of bike/ped parts of UVC and state traffic laws:
- Bad local laws:
To the Ohio Legislature:
The Ohio Bicycle Federation urges the Ohio Legislature to amend portions of the Ohio Revised Code that affect cyclists. These reforms will improve bicycling safety and eliminate discrepancies between Ohio traffic laws and the best practices of experienced cyclists, as described in Ohio Bicycling Street Smarts and as taught in the Effective Cycling and BikeEd programs. Experienced cyclists have one-fifth the accident rate of the average.
Many people who lack cycling experience believe that a cyclist on the road is in great danger of being hit from behind by passing traffic. However, accident statistics show that the greatest danger actually comes from turning and crossing traffic. Bicycle accidents are caused by the same driving mistakes as auto accidents. Erroneous ideas about danger lead to serious errors on the road as well as mistakes in traffic laws.
Priority Reform #1: Problems created by local ordinances.
As required by § 4511.06, motor vehicle traffic laws are generally uniform throughout the state. A driver traveling from city to city need not learn a new set of laws for each community. Local authorities have only limited powers to enact local ordinances.
Unfortunately, uniformity of the rules does not exist for bicycle traffic laws in Ohio. Although the Uniform Vehicle Code allows local authorities power only to regulate bicycle parking, and to require registration, inspection and a "frame number", Ohio gives local authorities carte blanche. The result is a crazy quilt of inconsistent and sometimes dangerous regulations (see Appendix 1 below) that require even expert cyclists to imitate the mistakes of beginners. Part of the reason for this problem is the misguided attitude that bicycles are toys for children, rather than real vehicles for transportation.
Some local governments ban bicycles, particularly from arterial roads. This is done in the mistaken belief that cyclists operating on busy roads are in great danger from motor vehicle traffic passing from behind. However, accident statistics show that such accidents are very rare. In contrast, sidewalks and segregated bicycle paths have a much higher crash rate, about 2-9 times that of the adjacent roadway, depending on road conditions.
Sections § 4511.07 and § 4511.711 encourage uninformed local governments to enact dangerous and discriminatory ordinances. These local ordinances conflict with well-established principles of traffic operation and are inconsistent with state law, thus they violate the principle of uniform traffic laws. Some of them, particularly mandatory sidewalk laws, require practices known to be dangerous.
The AASHTO Guidelines for the Development of Bicycle Facilities (1999 edition) specifically warns against encouraging sidewalk bicycle riding: "...Sidewalks are typically designed for pedestrian speeds and maneuverability and are not safe for higher speed bicycle use... At intersections, motorists are often not looking for bicyclists (who are traveling at higher speeds than pedestrians) entering the crosswalk area, particularly when motorists are making a turn. Sight distance is often impaired..."
Another problem with § 4511.07 (shown below) is that the language following the present subsection (I) does not even require signs giving notice of these non-uniform and inconsistent laws.
Present language: § 4511.07 Sections 4511.01 to 4511.78, 4511.99, and 4513.01 to 4513.37 of the Revised Code do not prevent local authorities from carrying out the following activities with respect to streets and highways under their jurisdiction and within the reasonable exercise of the police power:
Present language, Sect. (H) Regulating the operation of bicycles and requiring the registration and licensing of bicycles, including the requirement of a registration fee;
Present language 4511.711: No person shall drive any vehicle, other than a bicycle, upon a sidewalk or sidewalk area except upon a permanent or duly authorized temporary driveway.
Nothing in this section shall be construed as prohibiting local authorities from regulating the operation of bicycles within their respective jurisdictions.
Priority reform #1 below (revisions to § 4511.07 and § 4511.711) was accepted with only minor wording changes. (See lines 34-42 and 400-401 of the bill.) Non-uniform operating rules are the most serious bicycle law problem in Ohio. If we can get this reform passed into law, we will gain a major improvement in Ohio's bicycle traffic laws.
Proposed revision to § 4511.07(H), adding a new division (I) and renumbering the existing division (I) as (J), and modifying the language following new division (J).
(H) Regulating the operation of bicycles; provided, no such regulation shall be fundamentally inconsistent with the uniform rules of the road prescribed in this chapter; provided further, no such regulation shall prohibit use of bicycles on any public highways, except as provided in § 4511.051(B)
(The clause below should be added only if politically absolutely necessary.)
without first performing a publicly available professional engineering study to show that such regulation is required for safety considerations and also without first providing a reasonably safe and efficient alternate route, which route shall be clearly marked with signs;
(I) Requiring the registration and licensing of bicycles, including the requirement of a registration fee, for residents of the jurisdiction;
(J) Regulating the use of certain streets by vehicles, streetcars or trackless trolleys.
No ordinance or regulation enacted under division (D), (E), (F), (G), (H), or (J) of this section shall be effective until signs giving notice of the local traffic regulations are posted upon or at the entrance to the highway or part of the highway affected, as may be most appropriate.
Proposed Revision to § 4511.711
No person shall drive any vehicle, other than a bicycle, upon a sidewalk or sidewalk area except upon a permanent or duly authorized temporary driveway. Nothing in this section shall be construed as prohibiting local authorities from regulating or prohibiting operation of bicycles on sidewalks within their respective jurisdictions, but no such regulation may require bicycles to be operated on sidewalks.
Priority Reform #2: Revise § 4511.55(A) and § 4511.25(B)
Present language: 4511.55(A) "Every person operating a bicycle upon a roadway shall ride as near to the right side of the roadway as practicable obeying all traffic rules applicable to vehicles and exercising due care when passing a standing vehicle or one proceeding in the same direction."
Present language: 4511.25(B) "Upon all roadways any vehicle or trackless trolley proceeding at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing shall be driven in the right-hand lane then available for traffic, or as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway, except when overtaking and passing another vehicle or trackless trolley proceeding in the same direction or when preparing for a left turn."
§ 4511.55(A) is contrary to safe operation of bicycles because it encourages, and is often misinterpreted to mean riding "as close as POSSIBLE" to the road edge. Although the usual position of bicycles is near the right edge of the road, there are situations where this is unsafe and unreasonable. This language encourages the beginning cyclist's mistake of "hugging the curb". Riding too close to the curb encourages motorists to attempt to pass, even where passing is not safe. It contributes to mistakes where motorists turn in front of cyclists, the so-called "right hook". It tends to force cyclists to ride too close to parked cars, exposing them to risk of being "doored", and to ride over and through hazards rather than around them. It also leads to novice cyclists making left turns from the right edge by swerving in front of traffic, as in a "shooting gallery".
Since 1979, the Uniform Vehicle Code has recognized several exceptions to UVC § 11-1205 (on which §4511.55(A) is based) to accommodate conditions where edge of the road cycling is unsafe. However, there are other situations not yet recognized in the UVC. (See Appendix 2 below.)
§ 4511.55(A) confuses police, courts and the public. For example, in the appeal of City of Trotwood v. Selz (10/20/00, unreported), Second App. Dist. Case No. CA 18207, the prosecutor asserted in his brief that a cyclist must always ride at the extreme edge of the road even though this may be unsafe. As another example, an attorney writing for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, misinterpreted this law as requiring riding "as close as possible" to the curb.
§ 4511.55(A) largely duplicates § 4511.25(B). Before the 1975 ORC revision, bicycles were classified as devices rather than vehicles. The bicycle "near to the right" language was intended to be similar to the rules for horse drawn buggies and farm implements.
The appropriate purpose of both § 4511.55(A) and § 4511.25(B) is to facilitate safe passing of slower vehicles by faster vehicles. It is not always necessary or safe for a cyclist to ride at the extreme edge of the road. Instead a cyclist should ride only far enough to the right to allow passing by faster vehicles and then only if such passing is safe and reasonable.
Our proposed revisions for § 4511.55(A) and § 4511.25(B) are based on Pennsylvania Code, § 3301(b) and § 3505(c) and on the UVC § 11-1205(a)(3).
Priority Reform #2 was only partly accepted. The most important part was deleted (revisions to § 4511.55). Clarifying changes to § 4511.25 that were intended to supplement the reform to § 4511.55 were retained. (See lines 130-146 of the bill.)
By not including the most important part of this reform, Ohio law will continue to provide confusing instructions that are often misinterpreted to require riding "as close as possible" to the edge of the road, although this position is often unsafe.
UPDATE: When we learned that the most important part of Priority Reform #2 had been removed from the bill, we suggested a compromise -- adding a paragraph from the Model Municipal Bicycle Code to eliminate misinterpretation of this law. This paragraph has been added to the version introduced in the Ohio House. While we would prefer the version we originally proposed, this added paragraph relieves most of our concern. (See lines 329-336 of the bill.)
§ 4511.55 (C) This section does not require a person operating a bicycle to ride at the edge of the roadway when it is unreasonable or unsafe to do so. Conditions that may require riding away from the edge of the roadway include when necessary to avoid fixed or moving objects, parked or moving vehicles, surface hazards, or if it otherwise is unsafe or impracticable to do so, including if the lane is too narrow for the bicycle and an overtaking vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane.
Proposed revision to § 4511.55(A), (to be split into two subsections):
(A) Every person operating a bicycle upon a roadway shall obey all traffic rules applicable to vehicles, except those provisions which by their nature can have no application.
(B) A bicycle operated at less than the prevailing speed of traffic shall be operated in accordance with the provisions of § 4511.25(B) except when reasonably necessary to avoid conditions including, but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, parked or moving vehicles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards, or a lane that is too narrow for a bicycle and another vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane, or when it is otherwise unsafe or impracticable to do so.
Proposed revision to § 4511.25 (B):
(B) Upon all roadways any vehicle, or trackless trolley proceeding at less than the prevalent and lawful speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing shall be driven in the right-hand lane then available for traffic, and far enough to the right to allow passing by faster vehicles if such passing is safe and reasonable, except under any of the situations listed below.
- When overtaking and passing another vehicle or trackless trolley proceeding in the same direction.
- When preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway.
- When the operator must necessarily drive in a lane other than the right-hand lane to continue on such operator’s intended route.
Provided, nothing in this subsection shall require the operator of a slower vehicle to compromise such operator’s safety to allow overtaking.
Examples of misguided and dangerous local laws
- "Any person operating a bicycle shall ride upon the sidewalk rather than the roadway when sidewalks are available and not congested with pedestrian traffic."
- "No person shall ride a bicycle across or through an intersection when crossing a through street. Such intersections are to be crossed by walking the bicycle across or through the intersection."
- "A person operating a bicycle shall yield the right of way to vehicular traffic on a roadway."
- "Wherever a designated path for bicycles has been provided adjacent to a street, bicycle riders shall use such path and shall not use the street."
Note: A sidepath bicycle route adjacent to a street is nearly as dangerous for bicycle travel as a sidewalk. The accident rate on such sidepaths is about double the rate for cycling on roads, following standard traffic law.
When bicycles should not be operated
at the right edge of the roadway
1) When overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction.
2) When preparing for a left turn.
3a) When reasonably necessary to avoid hazards at the side of the road.
3b) In a ‘substandard width lane’ that is too narrow for a bicycle and another vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane.
4) To avoid conflicts with right-turning traffic.
5) When a cyclist at the edge of the road would not be adequately visible.
6) When stopped at a traffic light where motorists may be tempted to "hook" around the cyclist in order to turn right on red. (Instead, a cyclist, as a courtesy, should move left to allow turning motorists to pass on the right.)
7) At a blind curve or other location where passing may not be safe.
8) When crossing oblique railroad tracks or other wheel-diverting obstacles.
9) When driving on a one-way street in which case it may be better to drive on the left.
10) If there is any other safety hazard that requires riding further left.
Note: Numbers 1,2,3a, 3b and a variant of No. 4 are currently recognized exceptions to rule 11-1205 in the Uniform Vehicle Code.
Other Important Reforms
The Ohio Bicycle Federation urges the Ohio Legislature to amend portions of the Ohio Revised Code that pertain to bicycles. Above we present two priority reforms. Below are slightly less important measures to improve bicycle safety, increase traffic efficiency, eliminate confusion and remove some useless equipment requirements.
Reform #1: Clarification of penalties for bicycle infractions. Allow cycling skills course for violators.
Infractions committed by a person operating a bicycle should not result in "points" being assessed against that person's motor vehicle operator's license. Certain traffic violators should be offered the opportunity for education as an alternative to traffic fines.
This was accepted with only minor changes except for offenses involving driving "while under the influence" per § 4511.19. (See lines 248-271 of the bill.)
Proposed new subsections (A) and (B) for § 4511.52
(A) Violations of traffic laws by bicycle operators shall be ticketed using the same procedure as motor vehicle operators, except that any violation committed while operating a bicycle shall not affect the status of any motor vehicle operator license. When a citation is issued to a cyclist, the fact that the violator was operating a bicycle shall be clearly indicated on the citation.
(B) In the case of violations of traffic law by bicycle operators or that involve motorists endangering cyclists, the court may permit demonstration of successful completion of a court approved cycling knowledge course in lieu of or in addition to a fine or other penalty.
Reform #2: Exception for continuous turn signal requirement, § 4511.39
§ 4511.39 includes the following sentence: When required, a signal of intention to turn or move right or left shall be given continuously during not less than the last one hundred feet traveled by the vehicle or trackless trolley before turning.
There are situations where giving a turn signal can interfere with safe operation of a bicycle; for example, when the hand is needed for steering or to operate the brakes. We recommend the following, partly based on UVC § 11-1209(b), which requires a continuous signal only for vehicles equipped with automatic turn signals: (new language underlined)
This was accepted with only minor changes. (See lines 204-209 of the bill.)
When required, a signal of intention to turn or move right or left shall be given continuously during not less than the last one hundred feet traveled by the vehicle or trackless trolley before turning, except that on a bicycle, the signal need not be continuous and should not be given when the hands are needed for safe operation of the bicycle and no signal need be given when the bicycle is in a designated turning lane.
Reform #3: Clarification of § 4511.22(A), "Stopping or Slow Speed Rule"
Consider a local "Impeding Traffic" case: City of Trotwood v. Selz (2/7/00, unreported), Montgomery County District Court One, Case NO. 99-TRD-4409. The prosecutor alleged that if a bicycle could not be driven at the speed limit (45 mph), the cyclist must get off the road. The language below will help prevent such misrepresentation.
This was accepted with only minor changes. (See lines 83 and 100-103 of the bill.)
4511.22(A) No person shall stop or operate a vehicle, trackless trolley, or street car at such an unreasonably slow speed as to impede or block the normal and reasonable movement of traffic, except when stopping or reduced speed is necessary for safe operation or to comply with law. An unreasonably slow speed is defined with respect to the capabilities of the vehicle and operator.
Reform #4: Exceptions for exclusion of bicycles from freeway shoulders
Ohio law currently bans bicycles from freeways, regardless of the hardship that this causes where there is no reasonable alternative route and regardless whether there is any safety hazard. The following would allow the DOT to approve exceptions in limited cases. The language here is based on Pennsylvania Code § 3511.
This reform was deleted from the bill.
Proposed new subsection (C) for § 4511.051
(C) Notwithstanding subsection (B) above, the Department of Transportation may authorize bicycle operation on the shoulder of designated portions of freeways under the following conditions:
(1) A written request for review of the freeway route based on the potential unavailability of a reasonable alternate route is made to the department.
(2) The department determines that no reasonable alternate route exists.
(3) The department publishes a notice authorizing bicycle access to the shoulder of the freeway. The notice shall constitute approval for use of bicycles on the specified portion of the freeway.
Reform #5: New paragraph for § 4511.31, "Hazardous zones" (no-passing zones)
This revision offers relief to anyone traveling behind cyclists, horse-drawn buggies, farm vehicles, etc. on two-lane roads that are too narrow to for within-lane passing. Presently, nearly every motorist will pass a bicycle in this situation. This subsection makes such passing legal under specified circumstances. (You may wish to modify the criteria for the speed of the slower vehicle.)
This was accepted with only minor changes. (See lines 177-186 of the bill.)
(B) This section does not apply when (1) the slower vehicle is proceeding at less than half the speed of the speed limit at that point, and (2) the faster vehicle is capable of overtaking at the speed limit, and (3) there is sufficient clear sight distance of the oncoming lane to meet the standard overtaking limitations of Section 4511.29, considering the speed of the slower vehicle.
Reform #6: Revise § 4511.56
Front reflectors and wheel reflectors, as required by the CPSC for new bicycles, provide almost no safety benefit. Wheel reflectors do provide an impressive display when a cyclist is approaching a road from the side. However, then the cyclist has the duty to yield to traffic so the visibility is not needed. In contrast, a motorist on a side street must be able to see any cyclist he is required to yield to. Reflectors are useless here because the bicycle in outside the headlight beams. A bicycle headlight that illuminates to the front and sides, although not required by the CPSC, is vital for safety.
A bell is not needed by anyone capable of voicing a warning. Indeed, using a bell in an emergency can be dangerous because the operator may need to take a hand off the controls and look away from where he is going.
Generator powered headlights, helmet-mounted headlights, additional lights and reflectors and flashing (LED) taillights should be authorized except that red should not be used on the front, nor white on the back.
The requirement in (C) for an "adequate brake" is ambiguous. Some police departments prefer an objective standard. A few communities require that the brake "skid the wheel". This suggests irresponsible operation and is impossible for the front wheel of most bikes. We suggest using the metric of the Uniform Vehicle Code § 12-706, as shown in (C) below.
This was accepted with only minor changes except that the brake performance metric ((C) below) from the Uniform Vehicle Code was not included. (See lines 349-383 of the bill.)
Proposed replacement for § 4511.56
4511.56 SAFETY EQUIPMENT ON BICYCLE
(A) Every bicycle when in use at the times specified in section 4513.03 of the Revised Code, shall be equipped with the following:
(1) A lamp mounted on the front of either the bicycle or the operator that shall emit a white light visible from a distance of at least five hundred feet to the front and three hundred feet to the sides. A generator powered lamp, which emits light only when the bicycle is moving, may be used to meet this requirement;
(2) A red reflector on the rear
[deletions] that shall be visible from all distances from one hundred feet to six hundred feet to the rear when directly in front of lawful lower beams of head lamps on a motor vehicle;
(3) A lamp emitting either flashing or steady red light visible from a distance of five hundred (500) feet to the rear shall be used in addition to the red reflector. If the red light performs as a reflector such that it is visible as specified in (2) above, it shall satisfy the requirement for the reflector.
(B) Additional lights and reflectors may be used in addition to those required under part (A) above except that red lights and reflectors shall not be used on the front of the bicycle nor shall white or colorless lights or reflectors be used on the rear of the bicycle.
(C) Every bicycle shall be equipped with an adequate brake or brakes which will enable its driver to stop the bicycle within 15 feet from a speed of 10 miles per hour on dry, level, clean pavement.
(D) A bicycle may be equipped with a device capable of giving an audible signal, except that a bicycle shall not be equipped with nor shall any person use upon a bicycle any siren or whistle.
Reform #7: Clarify titles:
The traffic laws contain many provisions that apply to pedestrians, trackless trolleys and other non vehicles, and to vehicles that are not motor vehicles.
This was deleted from the bill.
Rename the "Ohio Motor Vehicle Laws" to "Ohio Traffic Laws". Rename Title XLV "Motor Vehicles--Aeronautics--Watercraft" to "Vehicles--Aeronautics--Watercraft". Rename Chapter 4511 "Traffic Laws—Operation of Motor Vehicles" to"Traffic Laws—Operation of Vehicles".
Reform #8: Clarify § 4511.53
An attorney in a Cleveland Plain Dealer article wrote that § 4511.53 prohibits standing up to pedal. We believe this is not the intent of this provision. We suggest language similar to that of the Pennsylvania Code, § 3504(a) that says "on or astride" the seat. We also suggest a provision for child seats.
This was accepted with only minor changes. (See lines 276 and 308-310 of the bill.)
A person operating a bicycle or motorcycle shall not ride other than upon or astride the permanent and regular seat attached thereto, nor carry any other person upon such bicycle or motorcycle other than upon a firmly attached and regular seat thereon, nor shall any person ride upon a bicycle or motorcycle other than upon such a firmly attached and regular seat. This section shall not prohibit the carrying of a child in a seat or trailer designed for carrying children and firmly attached to the bicycle.