Bike Laws in South Dakota

South Dakota FlagSouth Dakota has surprisingly few laws on the books regarding cyclists and how they are to act on the road. This is likely because bike use is still relatively uncommon in South Dakota, so there are fewer cyclists to lobby for any changes. The last change was in 2015 when South Dakota put in a law which dictates that cars have to leave three feet between themselves and cyclists when driving in an area posted to be 35 mph or faster. This means that while South Dakota may be fun to ride it, it’s important to stand up for your rights on the road and make sure to stay safe because many drivers aren’t aware of the rights of cyclists and neither are many cyclists! What should you know about the bike laws in South Dakota?

Cyclists and Drivers on the Road

Prior to 2015, there were no safe passing laws that controlled safe distance between cyclists and drivers. This changed with the passing of a new law in 2015 that mandated the safe distance of three feet between cyclists and drivers when riding/driving on a street with a posted speed limit of thirty-five miles per hour or slower. Over 35mph, the distance increases to six feet. With more than 700 killed and 48,000 injured cyclists in 2013, this law was meant to help drop those statistics and protect cyclists on the road in cities around South Dakota.

In turn, where are cyclists are allowed to ride? If a cyclist is at travelling at a speed that is less than the traffic, then they are to ride as close to the right-hand edge of the road as possible. The only exceptions to this are when:

  • The cyclist is passing another bike or car going the same direction
  • Getting ready to make a left turn at an intersection, private drive or roadway
  • The right side is too hazardous to ride on because of things like debris or if the road is too narrow for a bike and car to travel on safely together

The last point in particular is more ambiguous, leading many drivers to yell at cyclists riding on the road out of fear for conditions on the right-hand side.

It is also legal to have bicycles on sidewalks, but cyclists are treated as pedestrians (cyclists have the same rights and duties as pedestrians), except that riders have to stop before going on a crosswalk or highway from the sidewalk. The right-of-way is also yielded to pedestrians and cyclists have to give some sort of noise signal when passing walkers to warn them. Bikes can also be parked on a sidewalk unless they are prohibited to do sby a traffic control or ordinance. (section 32-20B-4)

South Dakota does not mandate the use of separated bike lanes or paths for cyclists even where they are provided, though it’s not a bad idea to use them since it provides an extra layer of safety. South Dakota also does not recognize the Idaho Stop law, meaning that even if the traffic lights do not pick up the cyclist, he or she must wait until something else trips up the light and it turns green. And finally, you can ride while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, though it’s not a good idea since this improves the chances of injury.

Bikes are considered to be vehicles; however, cyclists do not have all the rights and duties of the driver of a vehicle.

Safety Equipment

South Dakota does not require the wearing of helmets for any rider, regardless of their age. It’s still a good idea to wear a helmet since it greatly cuts down on injuries in cases of a crash, but it’s not illegal to ride without one. This includes children!

However, bikes do have to be equipped with a front light that is visible from three hundred feet away and rear lighting that is visible from two hundred feet away. There is nothing on the books about reflectors on the sides or pedals, though it’s never a bad idea to have extra lighting or reflection, especially if you’re riding somewhere more remote. South Dakota law also mandates that cyclists clearly communicate their need to turn using hand signals and if you see a car turning right, give it the space to do so.

Safety wise, there are a few other things that are lacking which are conspicuous by their absence:

  • Most states don’t allow bikes to be attached to moving vehicles while they are being ridden. South Dakota has no regulation prohibiting
  • You can ride hands free; there are no regulations specifying that there has to be at least one or both hands on the handlebars
  • And there are regulations regarding bike racing on a highway, as long as the race has been approved by local authorities with test of endurance not considered racing (section 32-20B-7)

One could suppose it’s kind of neat to be a state where bikes are largely ignored by the laws because you can get away with a lot more! Even if it’s not necessarily very safe.

South Dakota and Electric Bikes

South Dakota defines electric bikes as personal assistive devices with two wheels to transport one person. Electric bikes can only go fifteen miles per hour when using electric propulsion. Electric bikes do not have to be licensed or registered and much like regular bikes, helmets are not required. Interestingly, electric bikes can be ridden on roads, bike paths and sidewalks without any legal restrictions; they are not considered motor vehicles in that sense. However, they must yield to both pedestrians and vehicles.

South Dakota, at least for the moment, seems to have a very live and let live attitude towards cyclists which allows them to get away with more compared to many other states. At the same time however, it’s important to know what laws are on your side so that you can defend yourself against drivers who don’t know and so that you can ride safely. And while you may able to ride hands-free with no helmet while drunk, we certainly wouldn’t endorse it as a good idea! Enjoy riding in South Dakota and stay safe!

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