Cyclists are protected by—and obligated to adhere to—many laws. But while most of them mirror vehicle laws, it's easy for some rules to get lost in translation because, let's face it, bikes and automobiles aren't exactly alike.
Add to it the fact that all 50 states have different laws pertaining to cyclists, and it's easy to see how misinformation and ignorance can come into play as it pertains to the legal rights and responsibilities of cyclists.
The book Bicycling and the Law by Bob Mionske does a great job of dissecting all aspects of the subject, from legal rights, traffic stops, defective bikes, bike theft and more. The book goes through many common and uncommon instances of cycling and the law intersecting.
Here are four of the most interesting—and misunderstood—bike laws the book touches on.
Red Lights Apply to You
Cyclists, for the most part, like being treated like a vehicle in a legal sense. But you can't have it both ways.
If you approach an intersection with a red traffic light, you are required by law to come to a complete stop...just like vehicles. Some states, like Idaho, dictate that cyclists stop at a red light, and then yield to all other traffic. Many other states require that you stop at a red light and don't go anywhere until the light's green.
Of course, this brings up another issue: What if you're alone at a traffic light and it won't turn green for you? This is a common cycling complaint, and there's an answer. If the sensors can't detect your bike and trigger the light, it's considered a defective light. After sitting through one light cycle, you can proceed—yielding the right-of-way to any approaching vehicles.
What's a Brake?
The Uniform Vehicle Code supposedly makes it clear: "Every bicycle shall be equipped with a brake...which enables its drivers to stop..."
Seems straightforward. But it's been successfully challenged.
In several instances, fixed-gear cyclists have been cited for not having brakes on their bikes. They've taken it to court, arguing that the fixed gear functions as a brake. Some have lost their case, but some have won. The controversy led Washington D.C. to amend their traffic laws to state that "a fixed gear bicycle is not required to have a separate brake, but an operator...shall be able to stop the bicycle using the pedals."