Texas is a safe enough place to ride for cyclists because there are some well laid out and reasonable laws put in place to ensure safety between riders and motor vehicles. It’s important to know these laws because cyclists can easily get into a lot of trouble on the road where ‘everything is bigger’, including trucks and semis! Where an accident occurs between a bike and a motor vehicle, the car or truck will win guaranteed, so it’s important for the cyclist to be aware of his or her rights and obligations and act accordingly. Added on to this is the fact that while there are several regulations regarding where and how to ride, Texas is one of those states which does not require the use of helmet in any rider, so it falls on you to stay safe. What do you need to know about the bike laws in Texas?
Bikes and Motor Vehicles on the Road
Bicycles are considered vehicles in Texas, meaning that riders have all the rights and duties of a driver, save for those which would obviously make no sense for cyclists (such as speed limits that a bike cannot hope to reach). This is important because it helps to ensure that cyclists have more protection under the law and it helps to clarify what responsibilities cyclists have.
The primary concern of most regulations is to dictate where and how bikes are to be ridden when sharing the road. Much like anywhere else, Texas specifies that bikes are to be ridden as close to the right-hand side of the road as possible. However, there are a several exceptions which are carefully laid out to this rule:
- When passing another vehicle going in the same direction
- If you’re getting ready to turn left at an intersection or a private road/driveway
- If riding on the right would be dangerous
- If the cyclist is an outside lane that is less than fourteen feet wide without a bike lane or the lane is too narrow to ride side-by-side with traffic on
- If you’re cycling on a one-way road with two or more marked lanes, in which case you can ride as close to the left curb or edge as possible
Texas is one of the only states which specifies a distance for the narrowness of a lane or road; most states are very vague about this. On the other hand, how safe it is to ride to the right is left up to the cyclist’s discretion, which is where conflict between cars and bikes can come into play. Texas goes a step further by specifying that bikes can only be operated on streets, roads, bike paths, routes and areas that are specifically designated for bike riding. (Since bikes count as vehicles, this covers streets, roads, and routes, in case you’re now worrying). Texas does not prohibit riding on sidewalks, but local bylaws may, so be sure to check if you’re not sure. If you are riding on the sidewalk, you must yield to pedestrians and give an audible signal when passing.
Texas law does not cover any safe passing laws; instead, it’s covered by general traffic laws and only vaguely hinted that passing should be done to the left at a safe distance. However, dooring laws are in effect meaning that car drivers have to watch the road before they open their doors to get out.
Texas law doesn’t require that cyclists use bike lanes and paths where they are provided; however, since cyclists are required to ride as far to the right as possible, most of the time, they’ll end up in the bike lane. The state doesn’t have any vulnerable road user laws, so it falls on you to be careful.
Cyclists must also obey all traffic signals and lights, including red lights and stop signs and lane markers. Texas does not observe the Idaho Stop. Bikes are treated as vehicles and that means there are no exceptions for stalled red lights, so be patient!
Texas’ Driving Under the Influence laws are broad enough to cover bicycles, so you can get nailed if you are riding while drunk or otherwise intoxicated. However, distracted driving laws do not apply to bicycles (though thy do apply to mopeds and motorcycles).
Safety While Riding
Texas does not require that riders of any age wear a helmet while operating a bicycle. There is a child safety awareness month (April) where the importance of wearing a helmet is stressed and certainly plenty of bike activists point out the importance of wearing one; however, it’s not on the books to do so.
Bicycles do have to be equipped with a white light lamp on the front that is visible from five hundred feet (minimum) and a red reflector and/or red lamp that is visible from three hundred feet (the reflector) or five hundred feet (the lamp). It’s also recommended that riders wear bright or reflective clothing while riding at night (or in low light conditions) so that drivers have an easier time spotting them. Brakes also have to be capable of making the wheel skid on dry, clean pavement, but there’s nothing specifically about distance or speed. Riders must make sure they keep at least one hand on the handlebars and that there is only one rider to a seat. Finally, bikes cannot be attached to a moving vehicle while being ridden. Otherwise, safety is left up to the operator too keep track of and the laws stay well out of it. Be safe!
Electric Bikes in Texas
Electric bikes can be found all over Texas, so they are certainly legal. Electric bikes are defined as any device designed to be propelled by an electric motor (alone or combined with pedal power). Electric bikes are not meant to go faster than twenty miles per hour when they are being propelled solely by the motor. While there is not wattage maximum for the motor, there is a weight cap: the bike may not weigh more than 100 pounds.
Unlike conventional bikes, helmets are required for riders under the age of eighteen. Electric bikes are allowed to be ridden on all roads (with the same restrictions as regular bikes), bike paths and trails unless there is signage prohibiting it. They cannot be ridden on sidewalks.
In Texas, it is extremely important to ride safely as there are no safe passing laws and no legal obligation to wear a helmet. Texas is very specific about how wide or narrow lanes are to be before a bike can ride away from them and also very specific about some of the aspects of the electric bike. It is important to stay on top of municipal laws as Texas does allow for local bylaws to be added to the state laws and it’s important to stay aware. Enjoy the ride!