Biking can be an excellent way to get around New York City. It's an efficient and affordable mode of transportation and friendly to the environment besides. If you ride a bike regularly or plan to, you should familiarize yourself with NYC bike laws.
Just as New York City enforces traffic laws for motorists and pedestrians, the city government also expects bicyclists to do their part to ensure public safety.
This guide covers the NYC bike rules all residents should know.
NYC bike laws all bicyclists must follow
New Yorkers who choose to ride a bike as a mode of transportation must follow the same traffic laws as motorists. These include:
- Ride your bike in the street and not on the sidewalk. This doesn't apply to bike riders under age 12 or anyone riding a bike with wheels that are 26 inches in diameter or less.
- Ride in the same direction as traffic rather than against traffic.
- Ride on marked paths or bike lanes whenever possible. However, don't attempt to make a turn from a bike lane or path if it appears unsafe to do so. If you come across a road that isn't wide enough for a bicycle and motor vehicle to travel adjacent to each other, New York State law gives you the right to ride your bike in the center of the travel lane.
- New York City allows bicycling on all local and main streets throughout the city. This is true even when the road doesn't have a designated bike route.
- Come to a complete stop at all stop signs and red lights. You should always obey all traffic signals as well as pavement markings and road signs.
- New York State law holds you responsible for avoiding collisions with other bicyclists, pedestrians, and motor vehicles to the best of your ability.
- When you're stopped at a red light, don't proceed through the intersection until it turns green. The only exception to this is when you see a road sign that instructs bicyclists to use pedestrian signals.
- Install a headlight, taillight, reflectors, and a horn on your bike to maximize your safety and the safety of others.
- Always sit on the seat of your bike and never on its handlebars or fenders.
- Don't overload the bike with weight from passengers or items you're transporting.
- Don't attach your bike or yourself to another vehicle traveling on a roadway in New York City.
- Section 2268 of New York State law prohibits riding a bicycle with a motor on a public roadway with some minor exceptions.
Bike helmet laws in New York City
New York State requires all bicyclists ages 13 and younger to wear a bike helmet whether they are steering the bike or riding as a passenger. The helmet should have passed safety inspection before giving it to your child to wear.
When selecting a bike helmet, make sure that it covers the top of your forehead and fits securely on the top of your head. The helmet shouldn't slide up or down or side to side if you have secured it correctly. If you do get into a crash as a bicyclist, be sure to replace your helmet even if it doesn't appear damaged. The Department of Transportation (DOT) occasionally hosts free bike helmet events to encourage more New Yorkers to protect their head and brain. If you take advantage of the offer, you must sign a waiver and demonstrate that you know how to put the bike helmet on correctly.
NYC Bike Rules for Infants and Preschoolers
Children from one to four years old should only ride in a child safety seat in a pull-behind attachment. State law currently prohibits transporting an infant under 12 months of age on a bicycle. You could be fined $50 if stopped by New York City police for this violation.
Signaling Your Intent to Make a Right Turn, Left Turn, or Stop
Since bicycles don't come with built-in turn signals or brake lights like motor vehicles do, it's up to you to use manual signals to let other bikers, motorists, and pedestrians know what you are about to do.
To indicate you are about to make a left turn:
- Place your left arm and hand in a horizontal position and extend it away from your body.
- The proper signal for a right turn is to extend your right arm and hand horizontally away from your body.
- When you plan to stop, bend your left arm at the elbow and extend the arm and hand.
Safety Tips When Riding a Bike in New York City
- Avoid wearing earphones when riding a bike. Although state law does allow you to ride with one earbud in place, it's much safer to leave your earphones at home. You need to be able to hear what's going on around you, especially a car horn if a motor vehicle is approaching you too closely.
- When you change lanes or make a right turn or left turn, be sure to look both ways, use the appropriate hand signal, and look again.
- If you're attempting to ride across a crosswalk, establish eye contact with drivers to ensure that you're both aware of each other's presence. It's critical that a motor vehicle driver sees you before you maneuver in front of a car making a turn or attempt to make a turn yourself.
- Ride your bicycle in a straight line without weaving in and out of traffic.
- Following all traffic signs and riding your bike in a predictable manner makes it less likely that you will be the victim of a bike crash.
- Ride at least three feet away from parked cars to avoid having a car door strike you when a driver or passenger exits the vehicle.
- Wear bright-colored clothes when riding your bike during the day and use reflective lights and materials at night.
- Use the bell on your bicycle just like a motor vehicle driver would use his or her horn to warn others or make them aware of your presence.
We recommend that you exercise additional caution when riding near a semi-truck, bus, or other oversized vehicles. The visibility on these vehicles can be poor, making it difficult for the driver to see you. This is especially true when you need to pass or change lanes.
Types of Roads to Avoid with Your Bike
New York City allows residents to ride their bike on most public roads. However, you cannot ride on an expressway, interstate highway, or sidewalk. Keep in mind that you could receive a traffic ticket for violating this law or any of the other NYC bike laws we have listed. Additionally, bicyclists must yield the right of way to pedestrians just as motorists must do.
Typical Causes of Bike Accidents
When a bicyclist crashes with a motor vehicle, it is often but not always the fault of the car driver. The motorist may be driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol or choose to drive aggressively around bikes because motor vehicles are so much larger and heavier. Other common negligent actions by motorists include:
- Completing a turn in front of a bicyclist without checking blind spots first
- Failing to look in both directions before pulling out of a parking spot or driveway
- Failing to yield the right of way to bicyclists
- Running a red light, speeding, or another type of traffic violation
- Not seeing the bicyclist in time due to distracted driving such as talking on the phone or texting while driving
In our experience, crashes between cars and bikes happen because motor vehicle drivers forget that they must share the road with people riding a non-motorized bicycle. They fail to look for them, often with tragic consequences. Of course, bike riders are sometimes at fault too.
The best way to protect yourself is to make sure that you always follow NYC bike laws to avoid crashes with motorists, other bicyclists, and pedestrians
Common Types of Injuries from Bike Accidents
- Bone fractures
- Burns and road rash from dragging across pavement
- Facial injuries
- Neurological damage
- Spinal cord injury
- Traumatic brain injury
Sadly, we have also handled many wrongful death claims where a bicyclist was killed after a collision with a motor vehicle. You may file a wrongful death claim within two years of the date that a close family member passed away due to injuries sustained in a bicycle accident.
Raphaelson & Levine is Here for You in Case of a Bike Accident
Even when you're careful and follow all bike laws in New York City, you can't control the actions of drivers or even other bicyclists. For example, someone exiting their vehicle could strike you with their door or run into you in a crosswalk even when you have the right of way. If you have sustained serious injuries in a bike accident, the law in New York State gives you three years from the date of the accident to file a personal injury lawsuit against the responsible party.
Raphaelson & Levine is a law firm in Midtown Manhattan that has been the voice of the injured since 1992. If you’re facing large medical expenses, wage loss, and other costs involved with your bike accident, we invite you to schedule a free consultation with our law firm by calling 212-268-3222. Your bike accident attorney will review your case and explain the process of filing a personal injury lawsuit against the responsible party to recover compensation for your injuries.
Preserve Your Right to File a Personal Injury Lawsuit by Contacting Raphaelson & Levine Today
An accident as serious as you suffered can change your life overnight. If you feel that another party caused your injuries through negligence, we urge you to contact our Midtown Manhattan law firm at 212-268-3222 as soon as possible. Our free consultation gives you the chance to share how your accident happened and how it affects your day to day life.