Bike Laws in New York

New York FlagNew York is a great state to go cycling in, especially in New York City and Manhattan with many bike paths, trails, and the fact that it might be quicker to commute by bike than by car in some cases! New York doesn’t hold a claim to fame in either being particularly safe or particularly dangerous for cyclists either, though of course if you’re travelling in a major metropolitan area like Manhattan, there will always be some risk of trouble. New York City has been putting out events and awareness tips to help ensure that cyclists and drivers share the road safely, so there is certainly a place for bikes on the road. If you’re planning to ride the two wheels around the state, what should you know about bike laws in New York?

Where You Can Ride

Bikes are not considered to be vehicles so far as the law is concerned; however, riders have the same rights and duties as a driver according to the Traffic code. This means that cyclists have some freedoms on the road that drivers do not (wherever the driving law wouldn’t apply), but also must do things such as obey traffic laws and mind where they are riding!

In New York, cyclists have to ride as far to the right as possible and in fact, should be using the bike paths whenever and wherever possible (drivers are specifically forbidden from driving into bike paths in any way. Cars cannot even park, stand, or stop in bike lanes). Cyclists are only allowed outside of the right side in specific circumstances:

  • When preparing for a left turn
  • If it’s required to ride away from the right side to deal with things like narrow traffic lanes or dangerous hazards such as debris, construction, pedestrians, etc.

Cyclists are not allowed on freeways, expressways, drives, interstate routes, bridges or thruways unless there is a sign allowing it. Cyclists over the age of thirteen are also not allowed on sidewalks and, cyclists are prohibited from riding in parks or greenways unless the area has been designated for cyclists (you must walk your bike otherwise). This is in New York City; in the rest of the state, it is neither authorized nor particularly prohibited, so it’s important to check municipal law before you ride.

In return for these restrictions, drivers of vehicles also must be extremely mindful of cyclists and the potential impact of cars on them. It is illegal to drive across bike lines or to stand, stop, or park in them. Dooring is also illegal, and drivers are to use horns when necessary to warn cyclists that they are coming.

New York also specifies rules for cyclists who are biking for work (particularly in New York City). These include the following:

  • Working cyclists must have information identifying their business on their bike and body, which includes an identification number
  • Cyclists who are working must wear a helmet that is provided to them by the business
  • The business itself has to use a logbook that identifies the name, number, and place of residence of each working cyclist: the date of employment and discharge, information on daily trips, name of origin and destination. An annual report also must be filed to disclose the number of bikes owned, identification number and identity on employees to the police department.

Because New York City in particular is so full of working cyclists, it makes sense that the city would incorporate laws for everyone’s protection, both of body and goods.

Equipment Needed by Cyclists

New York has some stipulations for equipment and it’s one of the minority states which requires the use of helmets (only for riders under the age of fourteen, but it’s better than nothing). And while on the topic of children riding safely, children between the age of one and five must wear a properly fitted helmet and be carried in a child carrier that is properly fixed to the bike. Children under the age of one are not allowed on bikes at all, in any way. (VTL 1238 (a), (b), and (c)).

While it’s legal to ride without a helmet if you are over the age of fourteen, it’s certainly not a good idea to do so, especially in extremely busy streets. Helmets save lives and New York (particularly New York City) has been doing several awareness events around the importance of helmets.

Bikes must also be equipped with the following to be legal to ride:

  • A white headlight, red taillight and reflectors to be used between dusk and dawn
  • A bell or something else that makes a noise
  • Properly working brakes
  • Cyclists aren’t allowed to wear more than one earphone which is attached to an audio device (this is a little more unique against other states!)

E-Bikes in New York

Electronic bikes occupy an incredibly strange place in New York (particularly New York City). E-bikes are very popular in New York City, especially for businesses which use them as a way to deliver things like food, laundry, documents, or anything else that has been ordered. However, e-bikes are also not legal in New York and the mayor issued a massive crack-down last October, impounding thousands of electronic bikes. This prompted backlash from businesses, immigration societies (since immigrants are the most common workers for delivery businesses), and many cyclists.

In April, the Department of Transportation came to a compromise. Pedal assist bikes that use rechargeable batteries to boost their speeds are legal, as long as they do not propel the rider any faster than twenty miles per hour. This may have come later than many other cities and states, but it’s better than nothing. Electronic bikes, and bikes in general, are also becoming a very popular way for people to get around while dodging the massive commute times from being stuck in bumper to bumper traffic, a way to be more environmentally friendly, and also be healthier.

Bike laws in New York are mostly centred around New York City, so it’s important to check on municipal laws when travelling in other cities as the state will not generally impede on the municipal right to govern individual aspects of riding bikes. It’s important to mind where you are allowed to ride, the equipment you are to use, and the fact that helmets must be worn by riders under a certain age. New York is also a popular place to ride because of the many bike paths, beautiful scenery, and the fact that it may be faster than driving in many places! Ride safely and enjoy!

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