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See Be Smart. Share the Road with Bikes.

Bikes & Wheel Sport Safety
Index & Overview (Top)

The Bicycling and Walking in the United States 2010 Benchmarking Report, produced by the Alliance for Bicycling and Walking, states as follows:

  • Nationwide, an average of 0.5% of commuters get to work by bicycle.
  • Oregon has the highest bicycle to work share and New York is in 22nd place. NYC has the 21st highest cycling to work share among big cities.
  • Total bicycle mode share nationwide is 0.9% in NYS that is 0.7%.
  • The total number of people in the nation that bike to work has increased from 466,856 to 664,859 between 1990 and 2007.

A bicycle is often the first vehicle a person gets, usually as a child. It may, therefore, be thought of more as a toy than as a vehicle. Furthermore, having a bicycle is often one's first taste of independence and mobility. With a bicycle, a child has access to roads where he or she may have walked or crossed before. Now as a bicyclist the child must be aware of, and follow, a new set of laws and regulations. While bicyclists may complain that automobile drivers do not "see" them on the road, drivers complain that bicyclists ignore, whether deliberately or through ignorance, safety rules and state/local laws.

Motorists must be alert to the presence of cyclists and drive responsibly. A cyclist should not assume that the motorist has seen them. The cyclist should attempt to establish eye contact and adjust his/her activity in anticipation that the motorist is not aware of their presence. According to the "Capital Times of Madison", Wisconsin (July 8, 1995), "Motorists failing to yield the right of way to a bike caused 42 percent of [their] accidents. Another 39 percent occurred because cars were making turns and didn't notice a bike."

It is the responsibility of each bicycle user to know and follow the New York State Vehicle and Traffic (V&T) Law whenever operating a bicycle on roads or bicycle paths. Sections of the V & T Law related to bicycles, helmets and wheel sports are provided here. In addition, there are Penal, Highway, Parks and Recreation, Education, and Environmental Laws of New York State as well as the Department of Motor Vehicles' Rules and Regulations concerning bicycling.

Your city, town or county may also have local bicycle ordinances.

Programs & Solutions
Bikes & Wheel Sport Safety
Index & Overview (Top)

Bicyclists are required to follow the same laws and rules of the road as motorists. This includes riding on the right side of the road as well as obeying traffic signs and signals. Riding on the left side of the road, facing traffic is a common action on the part of the bicyclist that can cause a crash. Other actions or "missing actions" on the part of the bicyclist that can cause crashes are:

  • entering a road from a driveway or other entrance point without slowing or stopping for traffic,
  • riding into an intersection without obeying stop or yield signs or traffic signals,
  • riding on sidewalks where this is prohibited,
  • weaving in and out of the street,
  • crossing driveways without observing traffic,
  • riding at night without lights,
  • turning without signaling or looking for traffic, and
  • attempting to pass a motorist at a roadway junction.

(From the Consumer News Service #13, Jeanne Mackin of the Cornell Cooperative Extension. 2/88)


Frequently Asked Questions
Bikes & Wheel Sport Safety
Index & Overview (Top)

Question Mark

Which traffic laws apply to bicyclists and in-line skaters?

Bicyclists and in-line skaters must obey all traffic signals, signs and pavement markings. Bicyclists and in-line skaters who violate the law are subject to traffic tickets. Parents can be held responsible for violations by their minor children. [Section 1230(a), NYS Vehicle & Traffic Law.]

On what roads are bicycling and in-line skating permitted?

Bicyclists and in-line skaters have the legal right to share the road on most public highways, but they are prohibited on interstate highways and expressways. In addition, authorities with jurisdiction over other controlled-access highways may prohibit bicycles.

Must bicyclists and in-line skaters ride with traffic?

The law requires that bicyclists ride and in-line skaters glide with traffic [Section 1234(a), NYS Vehicle & Traffic Law]. Bicycling and skating against traffic are leading causes of crashes. Moving with traffic makes bicyclists and in-line skaters more visible, and their movements more predictable to motorists. Riding or gliding with traffic also prevents interference with the flow of traffic and pedestrians.

Where on the road may a bicyclist ride and an in-line skater glide?

If there is a usable bicycle or in-line skating lane, the bicyclist and in-line skater must use it [Section 1234(a), NYS Vehicle & Traffic Law]. If there is no lane or it is unusable due to parked cars or other hazards, the bicyclist may ride and the in-line skater may glide either on the right shoulder, or near the right edge or curb of the roadway. A bicyclist or an in-line skater may move further left to avoid hazards such as parked cars or debris, or to turn left but the bicyclist and in-line skater must avoid undue interference with other traffic.

A path is separate from the roadway, and a bicyclist or in-line skater may use either the path or the roadway. In some cases, a roadway may be safer than a nearby bicycle or in-line skating path, as well as more convenient.

May bicyclists ride and in-line skaters skate side-by-side on a roadway?

Yes. They may ride two abreast on roadways, but they must ride or skate single file when being overtaken by other vehicles. Bicyclists and in-line skaters may only travel more than two abreast on a shoulder, lane or path intended for bicycling and skating use if there is sufficient space. However, they must be single file when passing vehicles, pedestrians and other bicyclists or in-line skaters. [Section 1234(b), NYS Vehicle & Traffic Law.]

How should a bicyclist and in-line skater prepare for turns at intersections?

Generally, bicyclists and in-line skaters should use the same through or turning lanes as motorists. However, a bicyclist or in-line skater may choose to dismount and use the pedestrian crosswalk, especially in heavy traffic. After crossing at an intersection, a bicyclist and in-line skater should move to a usable right-hand shoulder or to the right side of the right-hand lane.

The position a bicyclist and in-line skater takes in preparing for a turn is governed by the turning rules that apply to other traffic [see Section 1234(a) of the NYS Vehicle & Traffic Law]. A bicyclist and in-line skater should move to the center of the lane when preparing for either a right or left turn, to prevent a following motorist from sharing the lane. It can be very dangerous for a bicyclist or in-line skater to turn, while sharing a lane with a motorist.

If there is more than one left turn lane, use the one furthest to the right. After any left turn, move to the right as soon as it is safe to do so.

Does the law require me to wear a helmet?

Yes, if you are under 14 years of age. Effective June 1, 1994, all bicyclists under the age of fourteen are required to wear approved bicycle helmets when they are operators or passengers on bicycles. Child passengers one through four years of age must wear approved bicycle helmets and ride in a specially designed child safety seat. Children under the age of one are prohibited from being transported on a bicycle. [Section 1238(5), NYS Vehicle & Traffic Law]

Effective January 1, 1996, in-line skaters under the age of 14 are required to wear approved bicycle helmets. [Section 1238(5-a), NYS Vehicle & Traffic Law ]

Effective July 1, 2002, persons under the age of 14 years old are required to wear certified bicycle helmets when riding a non-motorized scooter.  [ Section 1238(5-b), NYS Vehicle & Traffic Law ]

Effective January 1, 2005, persons under the age of 14 years old are required to wear certified bicycle helmets when operating a skateboard.  [ Section 1238(2-a), NYS Vehicle & Traffic Law ]

Any parent or guardian whose child violates the helmet law is subject to a fine of up to $50. [ Section 1238(3)(6a), NYS Vehicle & Traffic Law ]

Certain localities within the State of New York have passed local ordinances regarding helmet use for bicyclists. For example, Rockland and Erie Counties require all people riding bicycles on county property, regardless of age, to wear an approved bicycle helmet.

Every bicyclist, in-line skater or scooter rider, regardless of age, should wear an approved helmet. Helmets significantly reduce the risk of sustaining a serious head injury. A helmet should fit squarely on top of the head in a level position and cover the top of the forehead extending down to about an inch above the eyebrows. The helmet should not be able to slide back and forth on the head or rock from side to side.

What equipment is required on bicycles?

A bicycle must be equipped with:

  • A brake which is capable of making the bike tires skid on dry level pavement.
  • A bell, horn or other device that can be heard at least a hundred feet away. Sirens and whistles are not permitted.
  • Bicycles driven between a half-hour after sunset and a half-hour before sunrise must be equipped with a white front headlight visible in darkness for at least 500 feet, and a red or amber taillight visible for at least 300 feet.
  • A bicycle, when purchased new and/or driven at night, must have reflective tires, or wide-angle, spoke-mounted reflectors. Reflectors must be colorless or amber for front wheels, and colorless or red for rear wheels.
  • See: Sections 1236(b), 1236(c) and 1236(d) of the NYS Vehicle & Traffic Law.

Are there any equipment requirements for in-line skating?

In-line skate manufacturers are required to put warning labels on skates urging users to wear protective gear and they are required to equip skates with a stopping device. In addition, retailers who sell in-line skates are also required to sell protective gear such as helmets, elbow and knee pads and wrist guards. Manufacturers or retailers who don't comply can be fined as much as $500.

What other Vehicle & Traffic laws apply to bicyclists and skaters?

As a bicyclist, the law also requires you to:

  • Any bicycle accident involving death or serious injury must be reported to the Department of Motor Vehicles within 10 days. If no motor vehicle was involved, use a bicycle accident report (MV-104C). If a motor vehicle was involved, use a motor vehicle accident report (MV-104A). Forms are available at all motor vehicle offices. Parents may file on behalf of minor children.
  • Sit on the bike seat, not the fender or handlebars. Keep feet on the pedals, and never carry more people on the bike than the number for which it was designed [Section 1232, NYS Vehicle & Traffic Law].
  • Keep at least one hand on the handlebar at all times [Section 1235, NYS Vehicle & Traffic Law].
  • Never attach yourself or your bike to another vehicle on the roadway [Section 1233, NYS Vehicle & Traffic Law].
  • Never wear more than one earphone attached to a radio, tape player or other audio device [Section 375 (24-a), NYS Vehicle & Traffic Law].

Regarding in-line skaters, the law states:

  • In-line skaters are prohibited from carrying any package, bundle or article which obstructs their vision in any direction [Section 1235, NYS Vehicle & Traffic Law].
  • No in-line skater shall skate or glide outside during the period of time between one-half hour after sunset to one-half hour before sunrise unless they are wearing an outer jacket or other clothing made of laminated or reflective material, which is of a light or bright color [Section 1238 (10), NYS Vehicle & Traffic Law].

Safety Tips
Bikes & Wheel Sport Safety
Index & Overview (Top)

To help avoid a crash and be a responsible cyclist you should:


  • Drive your bicycle with traffic, not against it.
  • Ride as close to the right side of the road as you safely can. Use the shoulder or the bike lane rather than the road whenever it is safe to do so. (It's the law! See Section 1234 of the NYS V&T Law)
  • Use hand signals when about to make a turn. (Section 1237)
  • Obey traffic signs and signals.
  • Don't cling to other vehicles.

Bicyclists are more likely to be seen by other motorists if they behave like motorists, that is if they are where other motorists are expected to be and doing what other motorists are expected to do. Therefore, don't ride the wrong way on a one-way street, or on the wrong side of the road, and don't disregard stop and yield signs.


  • A motorist may be looking your way and still not see you on your bicycle.

    Don't assume a motorist has seen you. Establish eye contact or adjust your activity in anticipation that they are unaware of your presence. When it comes to a collision, most operators of vehicles sharing the road with bicyclists are protected by a cocoon of metal while bicyclists are not.
  • Use a headlight and taillight when driving at night. Use front and rear reflectors, spoke reflectors and pedal reflectors. (Section 1236 of the NYS V&T Law details the legal requirements.)
  • Wear light colored clothing and add reflective material to increase your visibility at night.
  • Use your horn, bell, and/or voice to communicate your presence to other motorists sharing the road with you.


  • Whenever possible, avoid road construction, congested two-way streets, and complicated intersections.
  • Keep your bicycle's tires, brakes and safety equipment in good working order.
  • Know your limitations and your bicycle's limitations!

    Bicycle tires are narrow and can get caught in ruts, sewer grates, and/or debris on the road. Your brakes, especially when wet or worn, may not stop you in the distance you expect.
  • Look behind you and all around. The more you observe other vehicles and pedestrians around you the safer you will be.


  • Wear a helmet!

  • Whether as a passenger or as an operator; anyone between the ages of one and fourteen must wear an approved helmet in accordance with the provisions of Section 1238 of the V&T Law. Regardless of what the law allows, serious head injuries can be avoided by wearing an approved helmet. According to the Johns Hopkins Injury Prevention Center report entitled Injuries to Bicyclists: A National Perspective "Helmets are needed because head injuries in bicyclists are noted in: estimated 70% to 80% of fatally injured bicyclists."
  • Remember that operating any vehicle on a road is serious business.

    One can have fun and feel carefree riding a bicycle with friends, but it can be a distraction that may lead to an crash. According to the report mentioned above, "One third of bicyclist fatalities occur on roads with speed limits of 55 mph or higher." This means that two thirds occur on roads with speed limits less than 55 mph (such as on village or suburban streets).
  • Do not ride a bicycle while wearing earphones.  You will not be able to hear approaching traffic.  The law says while driving a vehicle, riding a motorcycle or riding a bicycle it is illegal to wear more than one earphone attached to an audio device.  (Section 375 24-a.)
  • Young children in the 10 - 14 year old age group are at the highest risk. Bicyclist death rates per 100,000 population are highest in this age group. Young children:
    • have a field of vision 1/3rd narrower than adults,
    • are unable to determine the directions of sounds,
    • cannot accurately judge speed or distance of moving vehicles,
    • overestimate their own abilities,
    • are easily distracted, and
    • tend to focus on one thing at a time.

Whether you are riding a bicycle or driving a vehicle on the street in front of your house or on some other familiar road, remain alert.


In the event of a bicycle crash resulting in a fatality or serious injury, it is required that a written accident report be filed with the Commissioner of the Department of Motor Vehicles within ten days of the crash. Should the injured operator be physically incapable of submitting the report, they must submit it when they have sufficiently recovered. In the event that the operator of the bicycle is a minor, his or her parent or guardian must make the report within ten days of learning of the crash.

Related Sites & Sources
Bikes & Wheel Sport Safety
Index & Overview (Top)

You may obtain more information from:

Bicycle Information at NHTSA:

New York State Department of Transportation (DOT):

Vulnerable roadway users struck by motor vehicles at the center of the safest, large US city. - 2013 study from Bellevue Hospital

For bike and skate helmet information and/or health and safety information, please call the NYS Department of Health at (518) 474-7354.

For a copy of the "Sharing the Road Safely" brochure, please call the Governor's Traffic Safety Committee at (518) 474-5111, or it may be printed from our Media Resources page.

New York Bicycling Coalition external link

The Cornell Bicycle & Pedestrian Homepage external link

Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute external link

New York Statewide Bicycle Advisory Council

New York State Governor's Traffic Safety Committee,
6 Empire State Plaza, Room 410B,
Albany, New York 12228
Phone: (518) 474-5111 FAX: (518) 473-6946