If you’re riding your bike in North Dakota, you may find that the bike laws are surprisingly… sparse. (We were surprised too!) The section of the laws around bicycles in North Dakota is not very long at all and there are many things which are still missing that you can find in many other states. In fact, it is partially for this reason that North Dakota ranks dead last in the list of safest cycling states (the other reason being that not many people use their bicycle anyway.)
There are a couple of things going on therefore which are important to note before we look at the more general bike laws in North Dakota: 1) The responsibility of staying safe falls more so on the cyclist compared to many other states and 2) It’s important to check local municipal law as there are often more rules and regulations and they sometimes conflict with the rules in other cities. With all that in mind, let’s look at the bike laws in North Dakota.
Where You are Allowed to Ride
In North Dakota, bicycles are considered to be vehicles for the purposes of most traffic laws, expect for special regulations or anything where the law wouldn’t apply to bikes. (39-10.1-02). This dictates where bikes are allowed to ride and where they are not allowed to ride. However, North Dakota has one or two things which are different from many other states.
Bikes are expected to ride as close to the right-hand side of the road as possible and the exercise of care falls to the rider when passing either a still vehicle or one proceeding in the same direction. When more than one person is cycling together, they may not ride more than two abreast, unless riding on paths or roads which are set aside exclusively for bikes to use. North Dakota does not mandate the use of bike paths or lanes even if they are available, leaving it up to the cyclist to decide where best to ride. However, North Dakota does prohibit riding on sidewalks, no matter what local law may say.
There are a few other cases where a bike may not have to be ridden far to the right:
- When passing another bike or vehicle traveling in the same direction
- If you’re getting ready to turn left at an intersection or into a private road
- If you have to avoid conditions like objects, vehicles, other bikes, pedestrians, animals, hazards, or lanes that are very narrow
- When going one-way
- When approaching an area where a right turn is allowed
These are fairly standard when compared to other state, though what’s interesting is this was really only outlined in city bylaws (Fargo to be specific), not in the general cycling laws.
The more cavalier attitude towards where cyclists can ride even extends to the freeways. Bicycling on interstates and freeways in North Dakota is completely legal and allowed, which is a distinct departure from many other states which prohibit it.
Cyclists are subject to the same traffic laws as vehicles. North Dakota does not recognize the Idaho stop/vehicle detection error, meaning that even if the traffic light does not detect the cyclist, they still have to wait until it changes. North Dakota does provide dooring laws, meaning that people cannot simply open their vehicle door into moving traffic until it’s safe to do so and people cannot just leave the door open unless there is a good reason to (such as loading/unloading passengers). This isn’t precisely done for cyclists, but it certainly helps to keep them safe!
Cyclists are treated as drivers of vehicles for the purposes of laws around drinking as well. In North Dakota, cyclists can be fined for riding while under the influence. It’s still not terribly common, but it’s still better to ride sober as it’s far safer.
North Dakota is one of a few states in America which does not mandate the use of helmets for anyone, not even children. We would still strongly recommend wearing a helmet as they prevent serious head injuries in crashes, but you will not be legally penalized for not wearing one.
North Dakota concerns itself primarily with the equipment your bike has while being ridden, particularly at night. Bikes must be equipped with the following:
- A lamp on the front that can emit a white light visible from a distance of at least five hundred feet
- A red reflector on the rear
- A lamp that can emit a red light visible from five hundred feet to the rear can be used in addition to the reflector, but this doesn’t have to be used.
- Brakes that can make the wheels skid on dry, level, clean pavement
And that’s really about it for safety equipment. Anything above and beyond these things is completely up to the rider to use.
Electric Bikes in North Dakota
North Dakota does have some definitions around electric bikes and how they are treated. In North Dakota, an electric bike is a device with two or three wheels that are no more than 32″ wide with foot pedals or foot rests, a motor of less than 500W and won’t go faster than 30mp/h. To ride an electric bike, the rider must be at least fourteen years of age.
Electric bikes are not allowed to be registered. They can ride on all public highways and roadways. And unlike regular bikes, those riding electric bikes have to wear a helmet if they are younger than eighteen.
All in all, North Dakota has few surprises when it comes to bike laws and the general state laws are quite short. It’s important to check local law when you ride for any specifics or anything that the city does above and beyond state law. And even though you don’t need to wear a helmet, you should still do it as it’s the best way to protect yourself in case of an accident. Enjoy riding in North Dakota!