I’ve had numerous written and personal discussions that involve the intermixing of bicycles and motor vehicles on our roadways. Usually, those discussions involve the rights and responsibilities of motorists and bicyclists.
Recent reader inquiries on the subject run the gamut, so it’s a timely moment to review some of the applicable laws in the state of Washington. Such laws tend to be fairly universal among the states, but it’s always wise to check local regulations.
For starters, a Washington law reminds riders to obey traffic control devices. RCW 46.61.050 specifies: The driver of any vehicle, every bicyclist, and every pedestrian shall obey the instructions of any official traffic control device applicable thereto placed in accordance with the provisions of this chapter, unless otherwise directed by a traffic or police officer, subject to the exception granted the driver of an authorized emergency vehicle in this chapter.
This makes me wonder why many bicyclists (including me) often ignore stop signs while pedaling along. Certainly, the vulnerability one has while riding among motor vehicles should warrant stopping where cars and trucks are required to.
Another RCW, 46.61.755, reads: (1) Every person riding a bicycle upon a roadway shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this chapter, except as to special regulations in RCW 46.61.750 through 46.61.780 [bicycle-specific section] and except as to those provisions of this chapter which by their nature can have no application. (2) Every person riding a bicycle upon a sidewalk or crosswalk must be granted all of the rights and is subject to all of the duties applicable to a pedestrian by this chapter.
That second provision is in conflict with popular opinion that bicycles are not allowed on sidewalks. One certainly might think that, and it’s even implied by RCW 46.61.606, but evidently Washington lawmakers do not consider bicycles to be “vehicles,” since RCW 46.61.606 states: No person shall drive any vehicle upon a sidewalk or sidewalk area except upon a permanent or duly authorized temporary driveway.
That would preclude their presence on sidewalks if bicycles were designated as “vehicles” by the state. In case there’s any doubt that bikes are indeed allowed there, RCW 46.61.261 reveals: The driver of a vehicle shall yield the right-of-way to any pedestrian or bicycle on a sidewalk. The rider of a bicycle shall yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian on a sidewalk or crosswalk.
So, the law specifically allows bicycles on sidewalks but stratifies the “pecking order” as to who yields to whom.
One RCW, 46.61,758, spells out the requirement for bicyclist hand signals, reading: All hand signals required of persons operating bicycles shall be given in the following manner: (1) Left turn. Left hand and arm extended horizontally beyond the side of the bicycle; (2) Right turn. Left hand and arm extended upward beyond the side of the bicycle, or right hand and arm extended horizontally to the right side of the bicycle; (3) Stop or decrease speed. Left hand and arm extended downward beyond the side of the bicycle. The hand signals required by this section shall be given before initiation of a turn.
Note that these are the same manual signals we all learned in driver education class, with the exception of the right turn signal, which can be made with either arm from a bicycle.
There are a few other RCWs pertaining specifically to bicycles; one that disallows carrying more persons than capacity (standard bike/one person, tandem bike/two people), and another that prohibits attaching bike/rider to a motor vehicle.
Although when travelling below the speed limit they must stay as far to the right as is safe and not ride more than two abreast (RCW 46.61.770), bicycles DO have a right to use the roadways. With required headlight and rear reflector (RCW 46.61.780), bicycles are legal to ride in the darkness of night too. If doing so, I’d recommend using a flashing rear light (a named alternative in the RCW) in addition to a reflector.
When motorists and bicyclists know the laws, peaceful coexistence is more likely.
Readers may contact Bill Love via email at email@example.com.