Sometimes, even the safest automobile driver will ignore rules that they wouldn’t think to disobey in a car. However, the law of North Carolina considers a bicycle a “motorized vehicle” and expects a bicycle rider to obey the same rules of the road as an automobile bicycle rider should always go with the flow of the traffic. These would include:
- Always ride on the right side of the road, and in a bike lane if one is available.
- Don’t ride on the sidewalk. Admittedly, the law in North Carolina is a bit murky about riding a bike on the sidewalk. The statutes state that a bicycle is a motorized vehicle and no motorized vehicle should be driven on the sidewalk, but other statutes provide that cars should yield to pedestrians or bicyclists on sidewalks. There also may be local ordinances regarding bicycles on the sidewalk. As a safety issue, expect for small children, it is usually safer to bike on the roadway rather than the sidewalk. Neither pedestrians or cars expect a bicycle on the sidewalk and at every intersection or driveway, you are in greater risk of being hit.
- Use signals for turning. (Think back to your Driver’s Ed days and remember the hand signals you were taught)
- Obey all traffic signs and signals.
- Yield the right of way to pedestrians.
- Driving a bicycle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs is illegal.
Other laws specific to bicycles include the following:
- When riding at night, equip your bike with a front lamp visible from 300 feet and a rear reflector that is visible from a distance of 200 feet.
- Wear a bike helmet. The law requires all riders under 16 to wear a helmet.
- Bicycling on Interstate or fully controlled limited access highways, such as beltlines, is prohibited by policy, unless otherwise specified by action of the Board of Transportation.
Other than the possibility of local ordinances, there is no requirement for bicyclists to ride single file, nor is there a law that gives cyclists the right to ride two or more abreast.
Not only is obeying the laws of the road and bicycles important for your safety, if you do not obey those laws, and you do get in an accident, you may be barred from recovery even if the other person was at fault. Disobeying traffic laws that have been enacted for public safety is negligence per se, or negligence as a matter of law. North Carolina has the rule of contributory negligence. This means that if you as a bicyclist disobey one of the rules of the road, and it contributes, even in a small way, to your injuries, you won’t be able to recover any money for your damages, even if the other person was 99% at fault.
–Bradley A. Coxe is a practicing attorney in Wilmington, NC with Hodges & Coxe PC who specializes in Personal Injury, Medical Malpractice, Homeowner's Associations, Contract and Real Estate disputes and all forms of Civil Litigation. Please contact him at (910) 772-1678. He rides his bike at lunch nearly every day.