Illinois bike laws have been making little waves of late among the cycling community with the passing of three new laws. Prior to 2017, many of the bike laws in Illinois were similar to many other laws around the country and even these three new laws aren’t major ones, but they are ones that are meant to make life easier for everyone on the road. So, what sort of bike laws in Illinois should you be aware of?
Bring On the New!
As of January 11, 2018, three new laws were passed to address the common practices of drivers and cyclists alike. The laws were being lobbied for in the years prior, but they have now taken effect. So what do these new laws mean?
- The first law allows motorists to pass cyclists in a no-passing zone when driving under certain conditions. The point of this law is to ensure the safety of the cyclist; prior to this law passing, motorist would either cross solid centerlines or pass too closely to the biker, squeezing into the same lane as the cyclist which could lead to injury (or at least a nasty fright).
Under this new law, a motorist may pass to the left of a cyclist in a regularly no-passing zone if these conditions are met: the bicycle is traveling at a speed of less than half the posted speed limit; the driver can pass the cyclist without speeding; and there is enough space to the left of the center line to pass safely. The driver must also allow the cyclist three feet of clearance when passing.
- It is legal to cycle on the road shoulders, but you don’t have to. It’s a safety condition to help cyclists avoid drivers more easily. However, it’s not required because there will be cases where riding on the road shoulder would be a terrible thing to do.
- The last law allows you to use a red light instead of a red reflector (or you can use both). This is simply because the red light is more visible than reflectors and most cyclists use them anyway.
While on the surface, these laws don’t appear to be very sweeping, they represent the result of a lot of work and a more comprehensive law on where and how bikes and cars interact on the roads.
Where Can You Ride Your Bike in Illinois?
In 2016, a house bill (House Bill 5912) amended the vehicle code to add new privileges to where bikes are allowed to ride and how motorists have to drive around them. Prior to 2016, bicycles were not treated the same way as vehicles, particularly in the cases of right-of-way. This was amended in response to a collision with a vehicle that killed a cyclist. The House Bill states that bicycles are vehicles and as such, have all the same rights and privileges as drivers.
Because of this, bikes have the same rights and the same duties. This means that you can do the following when riding your bike:
- Bikes have to ride one the right side of the road
- Bikes have to stop at all stop signs (no Idaho Stops here)
- Use a front headlight and rear reflectors/lights at night
It is legal, by state law, to ride on sidewalks, but local ordinances may prohibit it in certain area (for example, downtown business districts). If you are riding on a sidewalk, assuming there is no signage prohibiting it, you are traded like pedestrians, but cyclists have to yield the right of way to pedestrians and make some noise when passing a walker so as not to startled them. It’s also a good idea to slow down!
Finally, Illinois does have dedicated bike paths and multi-use paths throughout the state, but bikes are not required to use them. It is also encouraged to ride single file and it is illegal to hang on to another vehicle while riding.
Illinois recently passed legislation that allows cyclists to use red rear lights or red reflectors which makes it more convenient for cyclists. However, Illinois is one of only three states in the United States which does not require the use of helmets when riding for anyone. It’s still a good idea to wear a helmet for the sake of safety, but Illinois doesn’t make it illegal to ride without one.
The only real safety gear that cyclists must be concerned with is the use of lights and reflectors when riding at night. The law states that ‘a front lamp with a white light visible from at least 500 feet to the front and a red reflector on the rear visible from 100 to 600 feet are required. A rear light visible from 500 feet may be used in addition to the red reflector. Equipment required on new bicycles include pedal reflectors, side reflectors and an essentially colorless front facing reflector.’ (https://www.elmhurst.org/DocumentCenter/Home/View/607).
Electric Bikes in Illinois
In 2018, Illinois also clarified and better defined electric bikes and their legal status. E-bikes in Illinois are defined as “a bicycle equipped with fully operable pedals and an electric motor of less than 750 watts.” Illinois divides e-bikes into three classes: Class 1 which provides help with the rider is pedalling and stops when the rider reaches 20mph; class 2 which does not require the rider to pedal and will power the bike up to 20 mph; and class 3 which aids only when the bike is pedalled, but stops when the bike reaches 28 mph.
In terms of the law, at the moment, statewide laws that apply to traditional bikes also apply to e-bikes. This is so that there can be no banning of their use and to ensure that there aren’t two sets of nearly identical laws on the books when one set will do.
Illinois really doesn’t have much for bike laws aside from a few skeletal common-sense things like riding on the right side of the road and using reflectors. There is nothing making riding without a helmet illegal and bikes have only recently started to be treated (by law) as a vehicle. In fact, this is so new that many people don’t realize that it’s true and cannot act accordingly. And while many things which the law in other states are aren’t the case in Illinois, it’s still a good idea to do things like wear a helmet and keep a hand on the handlebars! Enjoy riding in Illinois!