Cycling laws in PA? And whose at fault when someone gets hit....?


So, I got some comments on Facebook yesterday (read more to see them, and my reply) about the cycling article I posted yesterday, and I decided to post some remarks here. Thanks to Mike and Uncle John for reading, and I appreciate your feedback, even if I don't agree with it 100%. I hope you have a read below, and look into some of the PA laws that I linked to, because it sounds like cycling laws are different in different states (see my arguments below). Thanks for reading!

  • Michael Dow
  • Hi Andy, it's been awhile. Wish I could agree but I can't. I don't know anywhere that bicyclist can legally ride side by side when there is no bike lane. Cars can't so why would you think bikes can? Obstructing traffic is illegal and just rude. While I was a Deputy District Attorney I had to review many, many cases of car vs bike accidents. And as Judge Pro Tem I sat in judgement of many more. In every case the bicyclist was at fault. I have also been a witness to three car vs bike accidents. All thee found guilty of various vehicle code violations. You say bicyclist only want to share the road but in my experience that is not true. They want the road, no they demand the road and not only ignore the vehicle code, which they are required to obey, but feel they don't have to obey it. They also have no respect for pedestrians. Those with that attitude were given the maximum fine when I sat judge pro tem on their cases and I wish I could have done more. If bicyclist obey the law they won't have a problem. Sharon and I are bicyclist and obey the law and w have never had a problem. We are not Lance Armstrong want a bes that ride on the wrong side of the road, run stop signs and demand pedestrians move off the side walk when they are illegally riding on them. Ride safe and obey the law. Mike
  • John Garis
  • I got to agree with Mr.Dow. Respect is a two way street ( no pun intended). Out here the intense rider displays a rather arrogant attitude about "his rights",while ignoring the fact that cars and drivers also have certain rights. And in CHICAGO, the bike messengers are one of those urban nuisances.

I have to admit that I agree with both of you, to an extent. I've been hit twice on my bike, riding alone - once, when a car overtook me and then immediately made a right turn, forcing me off the road and into his back tire (Mike, who would have been at fault in that - technically I hit him, but it was unavoidable when he cut me off...). The first time I don't even think the driver realized he touched me, and I broke a back wheel. It was minor, and I didn't even fall off the bike, but it required repairs. The second time was the same incident, but even more minor still. Again, who would have been at fault in those cases?

Recently when Mia and I were out, we were treated poorly on back roads. I think it's slightly different riding on country roads versus cycling in the city, and I think the TIME articles referral to cyclists as a "sub culture" is too general - there are several subcultures still within cycling (as they made clear in the cartoon accompanying the article), namely roadies, city cyclists, delivery guys, etc. I think it's far worse in the cities, at least how cyclists behave in traffic, and I'm guilty myself of breaking the traffic laws of running stop signs and red lights.

In the countryside though, with fewer stoppages and less traffic, I think both cyclists and motorist need to simply exhibit more respect for one another. I like it when a car approaching from behind gives a friendly "toot" to let me know he's passing, and I often get off the road as far as I safely can to let them by. It's when cars get impatient and try to pass too quickly or simply pass very closely on purpose that annoys me to the point of chasing them down at times, which Mia rightly thinks is stupid of me.

In PA, they just passed a law in April that states motorists must give cyclists a 4-foot berth - one foot wider than the other 20 states that enforce such a law - and cars are legally allowed to cross a double yellow (if nobody is coming the other direction) to allow that berth when passing a cyclist.

So, Mike is right, bikes do have to operate under the same laws as cars, as described here:

"Section 3501. Applicability of traffic laws to pedalcycles.

(a) General rule. -- Every person riding a pedalcycle 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 title, except as to special provisions in this subchapter and except as to those provisions of this title which by their nature can have no application. "Bikes can ride on the shoulder or on the road lanes, as noted here:"

(b) Operation on shoulder. -- A pedalcycle may be operated on the shoulder of a highway and shall be operated in the same direction as required of vehicles operated on the roadway.

Comment: A bicycle may be operated on either a shoulder or on the roadway (the travel lanes).

The locations will be based upon traffic volume, the physical condition of the travel lanes or the shoulder, traffic speed, the bicyclist's intended direction, and other safety factors. "

As far as riding two abreast, it's actually allowed under the law in Pennsylvania. The link to the entire law is here, and the excerpt for two-abreast says: "Limitation on riding abreast. -- Persons riding pedalcycles upon a roadway shall not ride more than two abreast, except on paths or parts of roadways set aside for the exclusive use of pedalcycles."

As far as I'm concerned, I feel on twisty back roads that it is often safer for us to ride two abreast, as it forces the motorist to wait for a clear passing lane where they can cross the double yellow - oftentimes on the back roads, visibility ahead is limited by the curves in the road, and when riding single-file, cars will stay in the lane and squeeze us off the shoulder, passing very close - certainly within that four-foot limit. When we're two-abreast, they wait for clear visibility ahead and pass us wider, in the other lane.

So, I guess I agree and disagree with Uncle John and Mike, and apparently the laws are different in different states. Mike, I'd like to hear your interpretation of the two-abreast thing, but it sounds legal in PA, and with that 4-foot rule for cars, it would seem that it's not obstructing traffic.

Mia and I had a chat yesterday about how to make a city or town "bike-friendly." I think it requires a mutual respect from cyclists and motorists, and the addition of dedicated bike lanes makes it all the better. BUT, I don't think that's necessarily a requirement. If cyclists obey the laws and motorists give them enough room, I think existing roads can be shared, and it's the attitude that makes the difference. There no reason, especially out in the countryside, for drivers to honk and flip us off, and likewise, there is no reason for me to try and chase them down. Neither of those actions proves anything.