Bike Laws in North Carolina

North Carolina FlagDid you know that North Carolina was the first to establish a state bicycle program which became the national model? It’s true! This was with the passage of the Bicycle and Bikeway Act of 1974, which was taken on by the country soon after.

North Carolina has also recently changed up several laws pertaining to cyclists and to drivers in order to help make the road safer for everyone. These include changes to riding laws, safety equipment, and clarification for things that were confusing to drivers, causing frustration and anger. There are still issues being studied, but the changes made have been for the benefit of both drivers and cyclists. However, this means you probably need to do a bit of a brush up on your legal obligations, so what should you know about bike laws in North Carolina?

Where Bikes can be Ridden

North Carolina specifically states that bicycles are treated as vehicles and cyclists are treated as drivers of said vehicles (although they are not considered motor vehicles, for obvious reasons). As such, cyclists have to respect the rules of the road. North Carolina does not observe the Idaho Stop laws, which means that cyclists must respect the traffic laws and signage and cannot run stoplights or stop signs. This also means that cyclists are required to use their hand signals to warn traffic of what they are doing.

Cyclists are not allowed on sidewalks (unlike many other states) and North Carolina explicitly states that cyclists have the right to the road. Furthermore, cyclists are to use bike lanes whenever and wherever they are provided in many cities (such as Greensboro). As such, some cities are looking to add more bike lanes to encourage this.

It’s important to note that North Carolina does allow cars to pass cyclists, even on a double yellow line. However, a car must give at least four feet of space on the side for the safety of the cyclist. Cars are also not allowed to drive in or pass in a bicycle lane, so it’s really a good idea for cyclists to stay in them for their own safety, ignoring the law.

Cyclists must drive on the far right side of the road except in the following circumstances:

  • When passing another vehicle going in the same direction
  • When there’s some sort of obstruction that makes it hard to drive in the bike lane
  • When riding on a road that is one-way
  • When riding on a highway with three lanes for traffic

It’s important to check local law wherever you ride too as some cities may have additional bylaws to keep track of when riding.

Cyclists are not allowed to ride on any interstate or controlled limited access highways, except the US 17 bridge over the Chowan River. North Carolina also has specific laws around bicycle racing (mainly prohibiting it, unless there is an approved racing event on a highway).

One of the issues that many cyclists had with motorists was the fact that the penalties weren’t harsh enough when a cyclist was struck and injured. The newer laws sought to change that by enacting harsher penalties for aggressive motorists. These include:

  • Higher fines
  • Loss of license
  • Stiffer penalties

Advocates for cyclists are happy with these changes; however, many feel that they are still not enough to deter truly aggressive drivers, but at least it’s a start.

Safety Gear

North Carolina has a separate part of the law which concerns itself entirely with the safety of children while riding (the Child Bicycle Safety Act of 2001). These laws require the following:

  • Bicycle operators under the age of sixteen have to wear a helmet when riding on any public roads, paths, or right-of-ways
  • Children who are less than 40 pounds or less than 40 inches have to be secured in a child seat or bike trailer

People over the age of sixteen don’t have to wear a helmet, but it’s a very good idea to do so as it prevents head injuries.

As of 2016, new laws came into place regarding the safety equipment that bikes must have when being used. These include the following:

  • Every bike has to be equipped with a reflex mirror on the rear
  • A lamp on the front that is visible from three hundred feet (when riding at night)
  • A red lamp on the rare that is visible from three hundred feet (when riding at night)

If this doesn’t work for cyclists, they can wear reflective clothing instead.

North Carolina also prohibits driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol and since bikes are defined as vehicles, this law can be stretched to accommodate cyclists. Doing so would result in severe punishments, not to mention a good chance of causing injury. Prior to 2006, this law did not apply to cyclists, but it certainly does now.

North Carolina and Electric Bikes

North Carolina does define electric bikes. They are described as a bicycle with a motor that is less than 750W and can push the bike to a maximum speed of 25mp on a flat surface. In order to legally ride an electric bike, the rider must be at least sixteen years of age and wearing a helmet is required. North Carolina does not yet allow for the registration of electric bikes.

Electric bikes are allowed to ride on all public highways and roadways, as long as they have a speed limit of less than 25mph. They are also allowed on bike lanes and bike paths.

North Carolina was the first state to have a model for cyclist law and safety and that became the national model. The state has also been working hard in the last few years to enact new laws in order to clarify the rights and obligations of cyclists and protect them from motorists. It’s still important to keep an eye on the laws as there may be some changes coming in the future to ensure that you are fulfilling your obligations. Enjoy your ride!

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