Bicycle safety & laws - Rules for the road
Notice to King County Bike Map users
The online King County Bike Map has been discontinued. We apologize that the county is not currently able to provide and maintain this resource. Learn more.
Links to other map resources:
Planning an organized ride or other cycling event? Distribute our safety flyer! (.pdf)
The following information is provided courtesy of the Northwest Bicycle Federation & the Washington State Association of Police Chiefs and Sheriffs.
Obey traffic laws
Traffic violations cause the majority of bicycle/motor vehicle accidents. Following traffic laws makes bicycles predictable to other drivers.
- Yield when entering the roadway.
- Stop or yield when required by a sign or light.
- Always ride in the direction of traffic.
- Use proper lighting at night.
- Never ride while intoxicated.
- Signal your intentions to other drivers.
Wear a helmet
The law requires bicyclists to wear helmets throughout incorporated and unincorporated King County (Board of Health Code, Title 9). Head injuries cause the majority of bicycle accident deaths. Your head is worth the protection.
Use good lighting at night
Reflectors are not enough. A white front light and red rear reflectors are required. In addition, use a red rear light or flashing beacon, especially on dark rural roads where drivers need plenty of warning. Bright clothes increase visibility both day and night, but are not enough by themselves for night riding.
Keep bicycles mechanically safe and loads secure.
Be in control of your bicycle. If a bicycle is too big, hard to handle or if loads shift, an accident can result.
When bicycling on sidewalks, trails or paths:
- Keep speeds down.
- Yield to pedestrians.
- Yield to traffic before entering or crossing a roadway.
Adults should not ride on a sidewalk unless there is a specific reason (such as crossing a narrow bridge). Note: many communities have specific local laws concerning bicycling on sidewalks and paths; check with city officials for information.
Train and supervise children
Learning to ride takes many new skills. Adult supervision prevents accidents. Bicyclists of any age should not ride in traffic until they feel skilled with their equipment and traffic rules.
Take special care on rough or slippery surfaces
- When approaching a slippery surface (loose gravel, wet metal surfaces, or wet painted surfaces) go slow and avoid sudden stops or turns.
- Ride slow over rough surfaces (potholes, rocks and cracks) and stand up to absorb the shock in your legs and arms. Cross railroad tracks and cracks in the roadway at a right angle to avoid catching the front wheel.
- "Turtles," ceramic mounds used to mark some lane separations, and parallel drain grates that can catch a wheel are special hazards to avoid.
Don't lock your wheels when stopping
Use both brakes during a hard stop. Keep your weight low and back on the saddle. If the rear wheel starts to skid, reduce the force on both brakes. Practice this.
Ride safely when in a group
Each rider must stop and signal when required. Keep groups small (about 6 riders maximum).When the group stops to rest keep all riders off of the roadway.
Don't ride too close to parked cars
Opening car doors can cause an accident. Leave about 3 feet of "shy" distance.
Bicycle traffic laws
Common questions about bicycle traffic laws
Question: What traffic laws apply to bicyclists?
Answer: When ridden on any roadway a bicycle rider has all of the rights and responsibilities of any vehicle (RCW 46.61.755). Unless bicycles are specifically excepted, all traffic laws and rules apply to bicycles. Bicyclists who violate traffic laws are subject to a citation.
Question: Should bicyclists ride with the flow of traffic or facing traffic?
Answer: Bicyclists should always ride with the flow of traffic (RCW 46.61.100). The law requires this. Riding with the flow of traffic greatly increases safety by making bicycles visible and predictable to other drivers. Riding against traffic is a leading cause of bicycle accidents.
Question: What position in the lane should a bicyclist use?
1) Bicyclists traveling at the speed of traffic may use the middle of the lane.
2) A bicyclist traveling at a speed less than the normal flow of traffic should ride as near to the right side of the right through lane as is safe except when a) preparing to turn b) when passing another bicycle or vehicle or c) on a one-way street, where it is legal to ride on the left (RCW 46.61.770).
3) Bicyclists should ride in the middle of the right through lane when that lane is too narrow to permit side-by-side sharing with motor vehicles, and when hazards (such as drain grates or a rough edge) prevent riding on the shoulder or along the edge of the lane.
4) Bicyclists may ride on the road shoulder, but this is required only on limited-access highways, such as freeways.
Question: May bicyclists ride side-by-side?
Answer: Yes. State law allows bicyclists to ride two abreast (RCW 46.61.770).
Question: What equipment is required on bicycles used at night?
Answer: A white front light and a red rear reflector are required (RCW 46.61.780). In addition, a red rear lamp and/or flashing amber light is allowed. Use of reflectors alone does not satisfy state requirements.
Question: Where is bicycling not allowed?
Answer: On designated sections of our state's limited-access highway system.
Question: Is bicycling allowed on sidewalks?
Yes. When riding on any sidewalk or crosswalk a bicycle rider has all of the rights and responsibilities of any pedestrian (RCW 46.61.755).
The rider of a bicycle must yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian on a sidewalk or crosswalk (RCW 46.61.261).
Question: Are bicyclists required to use a bikepath adjacent to a roadway?
Answer: No. A bicyclist may choose either a path or the roadway. Some paths are not well suited to cyclists' needs, particularly fast riders or when crowded with other users.
Question: Are children required to observe bicycle traffic laws?
Answer: Yes. Bicyclists of all ages are required to follow the same traffic laws and may by cited for violations. In addition, a parent or guardian shall not knowingly permit bicycle traffic violations by their ward (RCW 46.61.700).
Bicycle laws in the State of Washington
RCW 46.04.071 Definition of "Bicycle."
"Bicycle" means every device propelled solely by human power upon which a person or persons may ride, having two tandem wheels either of which is sixteen or more inches in diameter, or three wheels, any one of which is more than twenty inches in diameter.
RCW 46.04.200 Definition of "Hours of Darkness."
"Hours of darkness" means the hours from one-half hour after sunset to one-half hour before sunrise, and any other time when persons or objects may not be clearly discernible at a distance of five hundred feet.
RCW 46.04.197 Definition of "Highway."
"Highway" means the entire width between the boundary lines of every way publicly maintained when any part thereof is open to the use of the public for purposes of vehicular travel.
RCW 46.04.500 Definition of "Roadway."
"Roadway" means that portion of a highway improved, designed, or ordinarily used for vehicular travel, exclusive of the sidewalk or shoulder even though such sidewalk or shoulder is used by persons riding bicycles. In the event a highway includes two or more separated roadways, the term "roadway" shall refer to any such roadway separately but shall not refer to all such roadways collectively.
RCW 46.04.670 "Vehicle."
"Vehicle" includes every device capable of being moved upon a public highway and in, upon, or by which any persons or property is or may be transported or drawn upon a public highway, including bicycles. The term does not include devices other than bicycles moved by human or animal power or used exclusively upon stationary rails or tracks. Mopeds shall not be considered vehicles or motor vehicles for the purposes of chapter 46.70 RCW. Bicycles shall not be considered vehicles for the purposes of chapter 46.12, 46.16, or 46.70 RCW.
RCW 46.61.160 Restrictions on use of limited-access highway by bicyclists.
The Department of Transportation may by order, and local authorities may by ordinance or resolution, with respect to any limited access highway under their respective jurisdictions prohibit the use of any such highway by funeral processions, or by parades, pedestrians, bicycles or other non-motorized traffic, or by any person operating a motor-driven cycle. Bicyclists may use the right shoulder of limited access highways except where prohibited. The Department of Transportation may by order, and local authorities may by ordinance or resolution, with respect to any limited-access highway under their respective jurisdictions prohibit the use of the shoulders of any such highway by bicycles within urban areas or upon other sections of the highway where such use is deemed to be unsafe. The Department of Transportation or the local authority adopting any such prohibitory regulation shall erect and maintain official traffic control devices on the limited access roadway on which such regulations are applicable, and when so erected no person may disobey the restrictions stated on such devices.
RCW 46.61.700 Parent or guardian shall not authorize or permit violation by a child or ward.
The parent of any child and the guardian of any ward shall not authorize or knowingly permit any such child or ward to violate any of the provisions of this chapter.
RCW 46.61.750 Effect of regulations - Penalty.
(1) It is a traffic infraction for any person to do any act forbidden or fail to perform any act required in RCW 46.61.750 through 46.61.780. (2) These regulations applicable to bicycles apply whenever a bicycle is operated upon any highway or upon any bicycle path, subject to those exceptions stated herein.
RCW 46.61.755 Traffic laws apply to persons riding bicycles.
(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 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.
RCW 46.61.758 Hand signals.
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.
RCW 46.61.760 Riding on bicycles.
(1) A person propelling a bicycle shall not ride other than upon or astride a permanent and regular seat attached thereto. (2) No bicycle shall be used to carry more persons at one time than the number for which it is designed and equipped.
RCW 46.61.765 Clinging to vehicles.
No person riding upon any bicycle, coaster, roller skates, sled or toy vehicle shall attach the same or himself to any vehicle upon a roadway.
RCW 46.61.770 Riding upon roadways and bicycle paths.
(1) Every person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at a rate of speed less than the normal flow of traffic at the particular time and place shall ride as near to the right side of the right through lane as is safe except as may be appropriate while preparing to make or while making turning movements, or while overtaking and passing another bicycle or vehicle proceeding in the same direction. A person operating a bicycle upon a roadway or highway other than a limited-access highway, which roadway or highway carries traffic in one direction only and has two or more marked traffic lanes, may ride as near to the left side of the left through lane as is safe. A person operating a bicycle upon a roadway may use the shoulder of the roadway or any specially designated bicycle lane if such exists. (2) Persons riding bicycles upon a roadway shall not ride more than two abreast except on paths or parts of roadways set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles.
RCW 46.61.775 Carrying articles.
No person operating a bicycle shall carry any package, bundle or article which prevents the driver from keeping at least one hand upon the handle bars.
RCW 46.61.780 Lamps and other equipment on bicycles.
(1) Every bicycle when in use during the hours of darkness as defined in RCW 46.37.200 shall be equipped with a lamp on the front which shall emit a white light visible from a distance of at least five hundred feet to the front and with a red reflector on the rear of a type approved by the state patrol which shall be visible from all distances from one hundred feet to six hundred feet to the rear when directly in front of lawful lower beams of head lamps on a motor vehicle. A lamp emitting a red light visible from a distance of five hundred feet to the rear may be used in addition to the red reflector. (2) Every bicycle shall be equipped with a brake which will enable the operator to make the braked wheels skid on dry, level, clean pavement.