Ohio Bicycle Federation
Cyclist Friendly Cities Program

Guide for Bicycle Traffic Ordinances

by Fred Oswald




Traffic laws must be fair to all users of the roads, uniform between jurisdictions and they must promote safety on the roadways.  The standard traffic laws that apply to the drivers of all vehicles promote safe, orderly and efficient travel for all.  These "rules of the road" are very good for cyclists.  Unfortunately, many existing bicycle specific rules are non-uniform, discriminatory and even promote unsafe practices.

Bicycle traffic laws and ordinances are important because they shape ---

  1. How cyclists are taught to ride.
  2. Treatment by police.
  3. What the motoring public expects.
  4. Who is found responsible if there is a collision.


Guidelines for Good Ordinances


For an illuminating discussion on traffic law as it applies to cycling, we recommend the chapter titled "Systematic Traffic Law" in Bicycle Transportation by John Forester, published by MIT Press, 1994.  For more information about local ordinances, see the article Model Municipal Bicycle Code.

Mistakes to Avoid


About "Helmet Laws":  We advise against ordinances that require wearing of helmets, especially for adults.  Instead, we favor education encouraging helmet use, so long as the primary emphasis is on safe operation.  In other words, not crashing is much more important than safe crashing.

If, because of political pressure, you must have a helmet ordinance, be sure it is not punitive.  Charges should be dismissed upon evidence of purchase of a helmet.  Most important, be sure it has a strong disclaimer for contributory negligence.  (See example below from Pennsylvania law § 3510.  Pedalcycle helmets for certain persons.)

In no event shall a violation or alleged violation of subsection (a) be used as evidence in a trial of any civil action; nor shall any jury in a civil action be instructed that any conduct did constitute or could be interpreted by them to constitute a violation of subsection (a); nor shall failure to use a pedalcycle helmet be considered as contributory negligence nor shall failure to use a pedalcycle helmet be admissible as evidence in the trial of any civil action.

Examples of Dangerous and Discriminatory Bicycle Traffic Laws
(These are invalid under Ohio Law)


Proper Enforcement

Correct enforcement of traffic law is as important as having good laws.  This means the police must be properly trained in bicycle operation and they must understand bicycle laws.  Misinformed police occasionally make errors of commission (by harassing lawful cyclists for riding in ways that they think are dangerous) and they often make errors of omission (by ignoring illegal practices that lead to accidents.)

Dangerous and illegal practices that police must stop through education and enforcement include: (1) Riding without lights in the dark; (2) Riding on the wrong side of the road; (3) Failure to stop for traffic signals; (4) Motorist intimidation and harassment; (5) Dangerous motorist errors, such as overtaking with insufficient space, illegal turns ("right hook" and "left cross"), etc.

Although generally not illegal, police must discourage riding on sidewalks by all but the youngest children, except at very slow speeds.  They must particularly discourage sidewalk riding in the opposite direction as traffic on the adjacent roadway and sidewalk riding in commercial areas where busy driveways are especially hazardous.  And the bike patrol must set a good example themselves by staying off sidewalks except where absolutely necessary for an immediate task (e.g., hot pursuit or patrolling areas only accessible by sidewalk).

Even better, if you have a bike patrol, request that officers ride on major roads in the commuity to set a good example.

Another Measure to Improve Bicycle Traffic Laws

Finally, you can help improve cycling conditions across Ohio by supporting the Ohio Bicycle Federation 2008 Better Ohio Bicycling Bill.  If you pass an ordinance or send letters to your legislators supporting these reforms, please mention this in the Cyclist Friendly Communities Application, Section 6, "Other Factors", so we can add points for your support.


© Copyright 2003-2008 Fred Oswald and Ohio Bicycle Federation.
Non Commercial distribution authorized with attribution.
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Revised 7/6/08