Is a Bicyclist a Driver or a Pedestrian?

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Have you ever seen a bike rider in the street blocking traffic and wondered whether that was even legal? Or maybe a bicyclist caused you to have a car accident by riding recklessly in traffic and you are wondering whether they will be considered a car or a pedestrian for purposes of attributing fault? Unfortunately, the answer can be complicated and depend on where you are.

As always, if you have a question about what the law is and how it will be applied in your local jurisdiction, you should contact a qualified, experienced attorney in your area to answer your questions. Laws change quickly and local applications vary, so it is important to remember that this is only a primer and only an attorney licensed in your area will be qualified to answer your specific questions.

Generally, bicycles exist in an interesting hybrid area of the law. After all, while seeing someone riding a bicycle on the sidewalk is not uncommon, seeing someone driving a car on a sidewalk would probably be followed by flashing lights and sirens. Some states allow local municipalities to make up their own local rules for how bicycles should be handled, making the question of pedestrian or vehicle even more complicated. Even so, as a rule of thumb, many states and local municipalities consider bicycles a form of vehicle and subject to at least some, if not all, traffic laws just like a car.

For example, in many states, if a bicycle is ridden in the street, the bicyclist must observe all traffic control devices, such as stop signs and traffic lights. Similarly, just as many states are enacting laws regarding talking or texting on a cell phone while driving, similar laws are being applied to bike riders. Some states require a license plate to operate a bicycle on the road. Operating a bicycle while intoxicated or otherwise impaired may be a crime just like a DUI or DWI behind the wheel of a car. Indeed, in many jurisdictions, while a driver's license may not be required to operate a bicycle, one may be subject to receiving a ticket, arrest, and even have penalties against their driver's license for infractions while on a bicycle; they could even lose their driver's license for riding a bicycle recklessly!

Some states also have laws applicable only to those operating bicycles. For example, in many jurisdictions bicyclists are required to remain as far to the right as possible while riding in the streets. Many states require bicycle helmets. Some require that bicyclists use special bike riding lanes when operating in the streets.

In reality, it is actually more rare that those operating bicycles be considered pedestrians than considered some form of vehicle. As a result, bicyclists rarely have an absolute right-of-way in crosswalks like a pedestrian would (indeed, riding a bike in a crosswalk may be illegal in some jurisdictions). And, just like with a car, bicyclists can be at fault for causing car accidents that pedestrians generally would not or could not cause.

Again, though, given the radically different laws in many states (and even in local municipalities of those states), it is important to contact a qualified, experienced attorney in your local jurisdiction to advise you regarding whether a bicyclist will be considered a driver or a pedestrian in your particular case.


Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

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