The use of bicycles in DC is governed in part by DC Municipal Regulations, Title 18, Chapter 12. According to these regulations, cyclists generally have to obey the same traffic laws as cars: “Every person who propels a vehicle by human power or who rides a bicycle on a highway shall have the same duties as any other vehicle operator under this title, except as otherwise expressly provided in this chapter . . .” DCMR 18-1201.1. That being said, there are several bike-specific rules you should know to bike safely and legally in the District. Here are the top 10 most important:
- Safe Distances. According to DCMR 18-1201.6, cyclists may ride two abreast (side-by-side) on a road as long as they are not impeding the normal flow of traffic. Cyclists must ride in a single lane to allow traffic to proceed.
- Registering Your Bike. Since 2008, you do not have to register your bike in DC; however, it is always a good idea to register your bike in case it gets stolen.
- Riding on the Right Side. Cyclists do not have to ride in the right lane, unless they are traveling below the normal speed of traffic. If that is the case, cyclists have to ride as close as practicable to the edge of the roadway. DCMR 18-2201.2.
- Talking on Your Cellphone. Talking on your cellphone while biking is actually legal in DC; however I would not recommend it. The District of Columbia recognizes a legal doctrine known as contributory negligence. That means, if a jury finds a rider was just 1% negligent in a bike accident, he or she could be completely barred from recovery. Talking on a cellphone is an instance in which a jury could find a cyclist was acting negligently.
- Biking on the Sidewalk. Biking on the sidewalk is legal in DC, unless you are in the Central Business District (basically, downtown). Check out this helpful map.
- Helmets. You only have to wear a helmet under DC law if you are less than 16 years old. DCMR 50-1605(a).
- Bells. DCMR 18-1204.5 says, “each bicycle shall be equipped with a bell or other device capable of giving a signal audible for a distance of at least one hundred feet.”
- Lights. Cyclists must use a white lamp on the front of the bike and a red rear reflector when riding at night. DC’s very specific regulations state, “Each bicycle, when in use at night, shall be equipped with a lamp on the front which shall emit a steady or flashing white light visible from a distance of at least five hundred feet (500 ft.) to the front and with a red reflector on the rear which shall be visible from all distances from fifty feet (50 ft.) to three hundred feet (300 ft.) to the rear when directly in front of upper beams of head lamps on a motor vehicle.” DCMR 18-1204.2.
- Bike Lanes. Cyclists do not have to ride within the bike lanes in DC. DCMR 18-2220.6 states that the existence of bike lanes does not limit cyclists from riding within the roadway unless specifically indicated by traffic signs.
- Riding Between Lanes. A cyclist may split lanes in the District of Columbia. According to DCMR 18-1201.3(c), “If a lane is partially occupied by vehicles that are stopped, standing, or parked in that lane, a person operating a bicycle may ride in that or in the next adjacent lane used by vehicles proceeding in the same direction.”
The District of Columbia’s Department of Transportation has a helpful website guide for DC laws that affect cyclists. The Washington Area Bicyclist Association also published an excellent pocket guide. These are great places to start if you have a question on DC laws governing bikes and cyclists.
If you were injured in a bike accident and would like to discuss your rights, call Peter Anderson at 202-768-9609 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.