What Are New York’s Bicycle Laws?

New York bicyclists must abide by the same set of laws and regulations that drivers of cars and trucks must follow. State statutes and local ordinances cover a wide range of topics relevant to cycling and sharing the road with bicycles, including road positioning, riding on sidewalks, and earphone use, to name just a few. Anyone who fails to follow traffic laws risks causing an accident that could seriously injure or kill a cyclist. If you’ve been involved in a bicycle accident, contact a New York bicycle accident attorney as soon as possible

Here’s a review of some important New York bicycle laws that aim to keep cyclists safe.

Safe Passing Laws

Four different laws dictate bicyclist and vehicle behavior when both are sharing the road. VTL 1146 states that drivers must exercise due care to avoid getting into an accident with a bicyclist. However, bicyclists must also take care not to get into an accident. If a bicyclist is swerving in and out of a bike lane or riding on the wrong side of the road, he or she might share in the responsibility for the accident or might have full responsibility for his injuries.

Vehicles and bicyclists may pass on the right under certain circumstances, including when someone is waiting to make a left turn, on multi-lane highways and roadways, and on one-way streets as long as the pavement is clear and it is safe to pass on the right. The vehicle nor the bicyclist can pass on the right by running off the road—there has to be enough space for two vehicle widths.

VTL 1122 states that a vehicle must pass on the left of a bicyclist “at a safe distance.” Though the law does not state the distance, an experienced driver should have no problem. However, bicyclists should always watch people passing by. If an inexperienced driver passes the bicyclist, she might be too close to the bicyclist.

While riding on the road, it helps for the bicycle to have mirrors so the rider can check behind herself while a vehicle is passing.

VTL 1120 dictates that bicyclists and vehicles must drive on the right side of the road, except when passing another vehicle, pedestrian, bicyclist, animals on the road, or debris on the road.

RCNY 19-190 provides penalties for drivers who do not yield the right-of-way to a bicyclist or pedestrian with the right-of-way. If a driver hits a bicyclist or pedestrian and causes injuries, the fine is higher, and the action is a misdemeanor. Additionally, the bicyclist may recover damages in civil court.


A dooring happens when someone carelessly opens a car door into the path of a bicyclist or another vehicle. VTL 1214 dictates that anyone opening a car door on the traffic side of the vehicle must wait until it is safe to open the door. We advise that you don’t use your mirrors as a bicyclist or another vehicle could be in your blind spot. Instead, turn your head rearward to check for bicyclists and other vehicles.

RCNY 4-12-(c) specifically mentions that drivers parked along the side of the road must watch for bicyclists while opening vehicle doors. RCNY 4-11(c) also states that taxis and other vehicles loading and unloading passengers cannot park in a bike lane to load and unload passengers.

Bike Lanes and Riding on the Road

Some cities and counties have bike lanes. These bike lanes are on the edge of the road and marked with signage, striping, and markings on the pavement. They are for bicyclists and in-line skaters only, pursuant to VTL 102-a.

If a bike lane exists, bicyclists must use them as opposed to riding on the road or on sidewalks. The bike lanes exist so bicyclists are safer and do not impede traffic flow.

If no bike lane exists, the bicyclist must ride as close to the side of the road as possible without endangering themselves. Exceptions to riding in bike lanes or on the very right side of the road include making a left-hand turn or avoiding debris and other dangerous conditions on the road.

VTL 1234 does not apply in New York City pursuant to 34 RCNY 4-02(e). RCNY 4-12(p) (1) and (3) state that bicyclists can ride on either side of the road as long as it is a one-way and the road is at least 40 feet wide and can ride outside of bike lanes if the bike lane is blocked or not safe.

RCNY 4-12 (o) states that bicyclists cannot ride on interstates, highways, expressways, bridges, drives, and thruways unless a sign on that particular roadway states otherwise.

Riding With Others

Pursuant to VTL 1234(b), cyclists cannot ride more than two abreast, and even then, only if the bike land or road is wide enough. When passing, the bicyclists must pass single file.

These rules also apply to in-line skaters, whether with other in-line skaters or with bicyclists.

Driveways and Private Roads

As with other vehicles, a bicyclist must stop at the end of an alley, private road, driveway, or over a curb before pulling into the road. In many cases, vehicles cannot see you until the last minute, so it is up to you to ensure no traffic is coming before entering the road.

Bicycle Safety Equipment

VTL 1236 requires bicyclists to use a light from an hour prior to sunset to a half-hour prior to sunrise. Other vehicles should be able to see the light for at least 500 feet. Additionally, during the same hours, the bicycle must have a red or amber light on the rear; that light has to be visible for at least 300 feet.

Furthermore, others on the road must be able to see the rear light from each side for a distance of at least 200 feet from each side.

Finally, every bicycle must have a bell, horn, or another device that people can hear up to 100 feet away. However, the bicycle can’t have a siren or a whistle.

Additional Bicycle Equipment

VTL 1236 (c) through (e) state that bicyclists must also have:

  • A brake that allows the bicyclist to skid on dry, level, and clean pavement.
  • Reflective tires or a reflector on the spokes of both wheels.
  • The front reflector must be amber or colorless, and the rear must be red.
  • Reflective devices if the bicyclist rides from a half-hour after sunset to a half-hour prior to sunset. These devices are in addition to lights, bells, and the above-mentioned reflectors on the wheels.

Earphones While Riding a Bicycle

While riders can wear earphones while riding, they cannot wear more than one while listening to any audio device, including a tape player or radio.

Hand On!

The bicyclist must keep at least one hand on the handlebars while riding. He or she cannot carry anything that would prevent her from keeping one hand on the handlebars at all times. Nor can a bicyclist carry anything that obstructs his vision, pursuant to VTL 235.

Furthermore, RCNY 4-12(e) also states that a bicyclist must have one hand on the handlebars at all times; and VTL 1232 states that:

  • The bicycle seat must be permanent.
  • The cyclist must have his feet on the pedals at all times.
  • The bicycle only carries the number of people the manufacturer designed the bike for.

Children and Bicycles

VTL 1238 does not permit children under the age of one year to ride a bicycle. Children over one year and less than 14 years must wear a helmet, including children from one to five years riding in a child’s bicycle seat on a bicycle.

Riding on Sidewalks, in Parks, and on Beaches

Admin Code 19-176 states that authorities can confiscate bicycles if the rider is riding on the sidewalk. It also states that authorities may levy sanctions against the rider.

RCNY 4-07(c)(3) states that no one shall ride a bicycle on a sidewalk unless:

  • A sign allows it.
  • The bicycle wheels are less than 26 inches in diameter, and the rider is 12 years old or younger.

RCNY 4-14(c) states that no one can ride a bicycle in a park except for places that allow riding. However, a person may push his or her bike, single file, to a park’s riding place, except on beaches and boardwalks.

Some municipalities allow bicycle riding on sidewalks, while others allow it but have restrictions. Always check your local laws or ask a bicycle accident attorney if you are unsure.

Bicycle Accident Injuries

Because bicyclists have very little protection, he or they could sustain catastrophic injuries or even die in a bicycle vs. vehicle accident. You can reduce the risk of some injuries, such as road rash and head injuries, by wearing a helmet, long sleeves and pants, and the proper shoes while riding.

Injuries bicyclists might sustain include:

  • Scratches, cuts, bruises, and bumps.
  • Road rash.
  • Face and eye injuries.
  • Strains and sprains.
  • Pulled and torn muscles and other soft tissue injuries.
  • Simple and compound fractures.
  • Internal injuries.
  • Head, neck, and shoulder injuries.
  • Traumatic brain injuries.
  • Back and spinal cord injuries.

Accident victims could also sustain secondary injuries, such as infections from open wounds. Additionally, if a vehicle catches fire or leaks fuel during the accident, the bicyclist could sustain chemical and thermal burns.

Recovering Damages After a Bicycle Accident

After a bicycle accident, you might recover compensatory damages in the form of economic and non-economic damages. The value of your case depends on the severity of your injuries. If you have injuries that doctors expect to heal in less than a year and have no long-lasting effects, you will most likely recover economic damages. If doctors expect your injuries to be long-term or permanent, you could recover economic and non-economic damages.

Economic Damages

Sometimes referred to as special damages, economic damages have a monetary value. They include:

Medical Expenses

  • Doctors’ appointments, surgeries, and follow-up appointments.
  • Prescriptions and prescribed over-the-counter medications.
  • Cognitive, physical, psychological, and occupational therapies.
  • Hand controls for vehicles.
  • Updates to your home, including ramps, widened doorways, grab bars, and handrails.
  • Ambulatory aids, shower chairs, oxygen tanks, and other medical equipment.


You can recover lost wages from the time of the accident until you return to work. If your injuries are long-term or permanent, you could recover loss of future earning capacity from the time of the wreck until your normal retirement date.

Personal Property

The at-fault driver’s insurance may cover personal property, such as your bicycle, and personal property destroyed or damaged in the accident, such as a cell phone or textbooks.

Death-Related Expenses

If you lost a loved one in a bicycle accident, you could recover funeral and burial expenses, cremation expenses, and certain probate court expenses or probate attorneys’ fees and costs.

Non-Economic Damages

Sometimes referred to as general damages, non-economic damages, while compensatory damages, do not have a monetary value. You might recover non-economic damages if you lost a loved one in a bicycle accident or if doctors expect your injuries to be long-term or permanent. Generally, long-term or permanent injuries will result in your death within days, weeks, or months after the accident, or the injuries will affect you for the rest of your life.

Non-economic damages include:

  • Pain and suffering, including emotional distress.
  • Loss of quality of life if you have to make life-long changes, such as taking prescriptions or using ambulatory aids.
  • Loss of companionship if you can no longer enjoy time, activities, and events with the family.
  • Loss of consortium if you can no longer have a physical relationship with your spouse.
  • Amputation of a digit or limb.
  • Disfigurement and/or excessive scarring.
  • Loss of use of a body part, such as your hand or leg.
  • Loss of use of a bodily function, such as your bladder or eyesight.

If you lost a loved one or suffered injuries in a bicycle accident, contact a New York bicycle accident attorney as soon as possible for a free case evaluation. We work on a contingency basis, so if you don’t win, we don’t get paid.