Bike Laws in Tennessee

Tennessee FlagIf you’re looking at riding your bike around Tennessee, then you’re far from alone. Tennessee is a popular place for cyclists with several strong protections put in place to ensure that bikes and cars interfere with each other as little as possible. For example, Tennessee law covers things like due care, center of traffic lane and Tennessee is one of the minority of states which makes it illegal for riders under a certain age to ride without a helmet. What should you know about the bike laws in Tennessee before you ride?

Bikes and Traffic

In Tennessee, bikes are considered to be vehicles while they are being used on the highway, road, bike path or any other public right of way. This means that cyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as drivers (except where it wouldn’t be applicable). For the most part, this covers things like obeying traffic signals, using hand gestures to communicate intent, and only riding up to two abreast on the road, assuming doing so doesn’t impede traffic flow. Drivers who aren’t aware of this often heap a lot of abuse on cyclists, so it’s important to know your rights. However, cyclists must yield any right of way to pedestrians.

One of the most important things to ever understand when cycling is how bikes and motor vehicles are interacting on the road. After all, if it comes to a crash between a bike and a car, the car is going to ‘win’! Tennessee has passed several laws in order to ensure that crashes happen as little as possible. One of the best ways to do this is to ensure that bikes are ridden with the flow of traffic and as far to the right as possible. The only exceptions to this are when:

  • Passing a slower vehicle going in the same direction
  • Getting read to turn left at an intersection, private road or driveway
  • It’s too dangerous to ride on the right, such as a lane that is too narrow or debris, construction, pedestrians, or wildlife.

Drivers of motor vehicles in turn have specific duty of care obligations which mostly covers safe passing (keeping a distance of at least three feet between themselves and a cyclist while passing) and dooring laws which covers the fact that people can’t open their car doors into traffic without looking at what they are doing first.

Bicycles are legally allowed to ride in the center of a traffic lane and Tennessee does not require that cyclists use a separate bike lane where provided. However, cyclists are really only allowed to ride in the center of a traffic lane if they have no other choice because legally, they are also supposed to ride as far to the right as possible. Tennessee does not have any vulnerable road user laws, but the state does offer the Share the Road license plates to bring awareness to cyclists.

Tennessee does not specifically prohibit sidewalk riding, leaving it up to local ordinances. Some cities prohibit bikes from being ridden on the sidewalks in some areas (like business districts), while others don’t have it on the books at all. If sidewalk riding is illegal, it should be posted as such with proper signage.

Tennessee does observe the Idaho stop, meaning that if a red traffic light doesn’t ‘pick up’ the presence of a cyclist and stays red for a long time, the rider can proceed through the red light. This can only be done if the cyclist has already come to a full stop and only proceeds when it is safe to do so. Be careful when doing this though as you can still get nailed with a traffic signal violation if the police makes a case that the detection device was working correctly.

In Tennessee, it is legal to ride while under the influence of something, but it’s not a very good idea since it increases the chances of injury. Distracted driving laws also only affect motor vehicles, not bikes.

Safety Gear While Riding

Tennessee is one of the minority of states where helmets must be legally worn. In this case, riders under the age of sixteen are required to wear a helmet at all times while riding. Riders over the age of sixteen do no have to, but it’s considered a good idea for the sake of safety! Tennessee also stipulates that child passengers under forty pounds or shorter than forty inches must be in a trailer or a child safety seat attached to the frame and wearing a helmet.

Bikes must be equipped with a front lamp that emits a white light visible from at least five hundred feet and a red reflector or a red lamp that is visible from at least five hundred feet to the rear. Bikes also must have brakes that can stop the bike within twenty-five feet from a speed of ten miles per hour. This is a little more stringent than many other states where the red reflector usually must be visible from three hundred feet and sometimes less.

Tennessee also mandates that at least one hand must be on the handlebars at all times, bikes cannot be attached to a moving vehicle and ridden on in that way, and that you can only have a number of riders equal to the number of seats. These are all fairly standard things across the country and makes good sense.

Electric Bikes in Tennessee

Tennessee also enjoys some sections of the law for electric bikes. Electric bikes are defined as motorized bicycles that can have two or three wheels, a motor of up to 750W, an automatic transmission and a maximum speed of thirty miles per hour. While you don’t need a license or registration, riders have to be at least sixteen years old to ride without any restrictions and riders between the ages of fourteen and sixteen can get a restricted license where they can only ride during the day and only within seven miles from home. This is unique; most of the time, many of the states completely ignore electric bikes.

All riders, regardless of age, must wear a helmet while riding. Electric bikes can be ridden on roads and on bike paths, but not on sidewalks.

All in in all, Tennessee enjoys some more logical laws and regulations regarding cyclists and safety when compared to other states. This arguably makes it a safer place to ride than other places and gives riders more protections while not impeding too much on basic freedoms. Tennessee has more on the books regarding electric bikes than many other states and is very clear about where riders are allowed to ride when moving with traffic. Stay safe while riding in Tennessee and have fun!

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