Bike Laws in West Virginia

West Virginia FlagWest Virginia is beautiful state and it is certainly enjoyable to take your bike around to see the sights, save money on gasoline, and get some exercise. The state also tries to ensure that cyclists are as safe as possible while riding with traffic but doesn’t have nearly as many laws around cyclists as many other states do. Bike laws in West Virginia are clearly set out and have yet to become too complex, making cycling even more popular. What should you know about the bike laws in West Virginia?

Cyclists and the Roads

Cyclists in West Virginia are considered to have the same rights and responsibilities as drivers, with of course the usual exceptions for things that would not pertain to cyclists anyway. Like most other states, additional protections are put in so that cyclists are as well protected on the road as possible since cars will destroy bikes in a collision!

West Virginia is a little different from many other states in one respect though: section 17C-11-5 of the West Virginia Legislature clearly states  that “Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing shall ride in the lane marked for bicycle use…” Cyclists can only ride on the road if there is no bike lane marked for bikes to use and then they are to ride as close to the right-hand curb as possible, except in the following cases:

  • If you’re passing another bike or vehicle going the same way
  • If you’re going to make a left turn at an intersection or into a private road/driveway
  • If there are unsafe conditions far to the right such as objects, debris, or if the lane is too narrow to accommodate you and a car going the same way

Interestingly, cyclists can also ride as far to the left as possible if the bike is being used on a one-way road with wo or more marked traffic lanes.

These may not seem like important differences; however, section 17C-11-5 seems to get overlooked by many other people who just say that cyclists must ride as far to the right as possible. This is true of course (since bike lanes are by their nature far to the right!), but it does mean that West Virginia observes separated facilities for cyclists unless those facilities are not provided.

(It is important to note that many other blogs and sites claim cyclists do not have to ride in bike lanes where they are provided, but if you look at the West Virginia legislature and the amendments to the legislature – links are above this paragraph and in the next paragraph respectively – you will see no mention of bike lane use being abolished.  When the law was amended, section 17C-11-5 (a) still clearly states that people operating a bike shall ride in the lane marked for bike use, assuming there is one).

In 2014, West Virginia passed safe passing laws in order to give both cyclists and cars room to travel together. The law requires a three-foot cushion of space between drivers and cyclists while the driver is passing. The driver then must make sure he or she is completely clear of the cyclist before returning to the right side of the road.

Otherwise, cyclists are to follow the same rules of the road as anyone else. West Virginia does not observe the “Idaho Stop” law, meaning that cyclists must come to a complete stop when told to do so by lights and other traffic control devices and they cannot disobey a signal that didn’t ‘see’ them. Cyclists also have to clearly signal their intention to turn or stop. Cyclists also have to pay close attention to ‘dooring’ because West Virginia doesn’t have any laws in place prohibiting drivers from opening their car doors into traffic. It’s simply strong recommended that drivers watch what they are doing, and cyclists do the same!

Cyclists can also be hit with a DUI for cycling under the influence because bikes are defined as vehicles. A first time DUI can mean six months in jail and/or a fine of between $100 and $1,000. These are the same penalties that apply to drivers except that cyclists cannot have their license suspended since they don’t have one.

Cycling Safely

West Virginia requires that bikes which are being used at night have a white lamp in the front that emits a light visible from at least five hundred feet. The bike also has to have a red reflector on the back that is visible from all sides from fifty to three hundred feet. You can also use a red lamp on the rear to supplement the reflector.

The use of helmets is required for all bike riders under the age of fifteen (or for all passengers on a bike who are under the age of fifteen)-17C-11A-4. Helmets must be worn while the rider is on any public roads, bike paths or public right of ways. This law is the main thrust of the Child Bicycle Safety Act which was put forward in order to prevent disabilities and deaths that are caused when cyclists get into an accident and aren’t properly protected. Riders over the age of fifteen don’t have to wear a helmet, but it’s strongly recommended that one is worn anyway as it’s the best way to prevent disabilities and death in cases of collisions.

It’s also important to check your bylaws wherever you are riding as some municipal laws may have different bike helmet rules.

West Virginia and Electronic Bikes

West Virginia is also a little weird about electronic bikes. E-bikes are considered to be mopeds and as such, you would think that they need licenses and registration, but West Virginia completely ignores e-bikes and as such, they are technically illegal to ride. Since electronic bikes are basically ignored by legislature, they are generally treated as traditional bikes for the purposes of where they are allowed to be ridden and how.

This hasn’t stopped people from riding them and it’s not very common that riders get nailed for riding them (certainly you can purchase e-bikes in West Virginia). Electric mountain bikes for example are certainly discussed with trail access varying from park to park, though overall, any natural surface that is open to motorized and non-motorized use is fair game.

It’s very important to keep track of the legislature in West Virginia regarding bikes and e-bikes as there seems to be conflicting information out there. The most important thing you can do is ride with awareness and safety in mind, and even if you don’t need to wear a helmet, it’s still a good idea to put one on. Enjoy riding in West Virginia!

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