Bike Laws: May Be Different than You Think
knows the law when it comes to bicycles, right? Maybe not.
1. Bicycles on the Sidewalk Whether one can ride a bike on the sidewalk depends upon where that sidewalk is, but contrary to popular belief, it’s generally allowed.
Seattle bicyclists may ride on any sidewalk provided they do so in a “careful and prudent manner.” [SMC 11.44.120]
Bellevue bicyclists can ride on the sidewalk unless this would “unreasonably inconvenience pedestrians.” [BMC 11.60.070]
Anywhere in Washington, unless otherwise locally legislated, “every person riding a bicycle upon a sidewalk or crosswalk must be granted all of the rights and is subject to all of the duties applicable to a pedestrian by this chapter.” [RCW 46.61.755(2)]
For other locations, see the “City and County Codes” link at www.washingtonbikelaw.com.
open the door of a motor vehicle on the side adjacent to moving traffic unless and until it is reasonably safe to do so, and can be done without interfering with the movement of other traffic, nor shall any person leave a door open on the side of a vehicle adjacent to moving traffic for a period of time longer than necessary to load or unload passengers.
Passing on the Right
The state rules of the road are more complicated, but also allow passing on the right in some situations.
NEW Statewide Passing Laws
Stay Left Until Clear: When approaching a bicycle or pedestrian in the road, on the right shoulder, or in a bike lane, passing drivers have a duty to stay left “at a safe distance to clearly avoid coming in contact with the pedestrian or bicyclist, and shall not again drive to the right side of the roadway until safely clear of the overtaken pedestrian or bicyclist.” [RCW 46.61.110(2)]
Studies by Group Health and the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center show that helmet use could prevent up to 85% of bicyclists’ head injuries.
According to the King County Board of Health, if every cyclist wore a helmet, the county could save nearly $10 million a year in direct and indirect costs for head injuries.
Bicyclists are required to wear helmets in King County, but the actual law is harder to find than some questionable tax loopholes.
Where is the local helmet law? In the Seattle Municipal Code? No. In the King County Code? Nope. With some determination, you might find it hidden in the King County Board of Health Code, provided you can find the King County Board of Health Code.
The hard-to-find law states, “Any person operating or riding on a bicycle not powered by motor on a public roadway, bicycle path or on any right-of-way or publicly owned facilities located in King County including Seattle, shall wear a protective helmet designed for bicycle safety.” [BOH 9.10.010(A)]
Any police officer can impose a $30 fine for violations of this law, however few do, perhaps because they can’t find the helmet law under which to make the charge.
Drunk Riding is Not Subject to DUI Laws
Apparently, the worst that can happen (at least as far as criminal issues are concerned) is the impoundment of a bike “if the officer determines that impoundment is necessary to reduce a threat to public safety, and there are no reasonable alternatives to impoundment.” And, “The bicycle must be returned without payment of a fee.”
The Washington Court of Appeals specifically held in City of Montesano v. Daniel Wells that “neither legislative intent, the statutory scheme, nor public policy support the conclusion that [the DUI law] was intended to apply to bicyclists.”
The court noted that “drunk bicyclists are not capable of causing the tremendous ‘carnage and slaughter’ associated with drunk driving.” Nevertheless, a drunken bicyclist is more likely to become carnage out on the road. This observation leads to the final factoid:
10. Legal or not, it’s probably not a good idea to ride drunk.
Anderton is a bike commuter and represents bicyclists and other good people
with serious injury claims. You can contact Bob at (206) 262-9290 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anderton represents bicyclists, pedestrians, and drivers who have been
injured in collisions. He occasionally represents people who have been
injured in unsafe places or those whose insurance companies have acted
in bad faith. He is also a court-appointed settlement guardian ad litem.