Bicycle Law FAQs

Bicycle Law FAQs (and opinions ...)

Q: Do I have to wear a helmet? (Of course you should always wear a helmet.)

A:

- DC: If you are under the age of 16, you must wear a helmet.

- MD: If you are under the age of 16, you must wear a helmet. Some counties have stricter requirements:

  • Howard County – under 17
  • Montgomery County – under 18
  • Sykesville MD – all ages (includes adults)

- VA: It depends on which county you live in. In the following counties, you must wear a helmet if you are age 14 or younger.

Albemarle CountyCity of Manassas
City of AlexandriaCity of Manassas Park
Amherst CountyCity of Norfolk
Arlington CountyOrange County
Clarke CountyCity of Petersburg
City of Falls ChurchPrince William County
Floyd CountyStafford County
City of HamptonTown of Vienna
James City CountyTown of Wise
Town of LurayYork County

Q: Am I allowed to wear headphones when I ride my bike?

- DC: Not specified, however, we strongly recommend having both ears uncovered at all times to detect nearby cars, pedestrians, horns, and emergency sirens.

- MD: Usually not, but it depends.

  • On public bicycle pathways expressly authorized for the use of persons operating bicycles, headphones are allowed.
  • On regular roads, bicyclists may not ride wearing a headset, earplugs, or any other obstruction that covers both ears. Exceptions cover hearing aids (and like prosthetic devices), specially designed earplugs that are designed to attenuate injurious noise levels but not inhibit the wearer's ability to hear a horn or emergency siren.

- VA: Bicyclists are not permitted to wear earphones in both ears when riding.

Q: Am I allowed to ride my bicycle on the sidewalk?

A:

- DC: Yes, except in the central business district and other areas where special prohibitions are in place.

- MD: Yes, where allowed by local ordinance.

  • City of New Carrollton: If you are age 15 or older, you can not ride on the sidewalk.
  • Baltimore City: Sidewalk riding not allowed.
  • Town of Easton: Sidewalk riding not allowed.
  • Leonardtown: Sidewalk riding not allowed.
  • City of Laurel: Sidewalk riding not allowed on public sidewalks.
  • - VA: Yes, unless prohibited by local ordinance or traffic control devices.

  • City of Alexandria: Sidewalk riding not allowed.
  • Fairfax County: Sidewalk riding not allowed.

Q: Do I have to have lights on my bike?

A:

- DC: When riding at night, you are required to have one front white light and one rear red reflector. (We strongly recommend at least one red rear light as well.)

- MD: If you are riding on a highway and people and vehicles are not clearly discernable from 1,000 feet, you must have a front white light and a rear red reflector. (Again, we strongly recommend at least one red rear light as well.)

  • City of New Carrollton: If riding between sunset and sunrise, you must have a front white light and a rear red reflector.

- VA: If you are riding between sunset and sunrise, you must have a front white light and a rear red reflector. Also, if you are riding on a road with a speed limit of 35 mph or greater, you must have at least one red taillight. (Again, we strongly recommend at least one red rear light as well.)

Q: Do I have the same rights as a car?

A: Yes, but you also have the same responsibilities.

- DC: (link to Chapter 12. Section 1200 in Bicycle Laws document)

- MD: (link to 21-1202 Traffic laws apply to bicycles and motor scooters in Bicycle Laws document)

- VA: (link to Virginia – Rights and Duties in Bicycle Laws document)

Q: Can cyclists ride two abreast on the street?

A:

- DC: Yes.

- MD: Yes, if the flow of traffic is unimpeded.

- VA: Yes, if the flow of traffic is unimpeded. Cyclists cannot ride more than two abreast.

Q: Do I have to ride adjacent to the right-hand curb?

A: Bicyclists must always ride with the flow of traffic.

- DC/MD/VA: If driving at a speed less than traffic:

  • On a two-way street, cyclists must ride as close to the right-hand side of the road as is practical, but may move away to turn, to avoid obstructions, avoid a turn lane (if it is the right lane), pass a stopped or slower moving vehicle, or to make any maneuver necessary to drive safely.
  • On a one-way street, cyclists may also opt to ride as close to the left-hand side of the road as is practical.

- DC Note: If the lanes are of "substandard" width (11 feet wide or less) "that make it unsafe to remain near the curb or edge of the roadway," the rider may move away from the positions described above "as necessary."

Q: Do I need to register my bike?

A:

- DC: Yes.

- MD: It depends on the county. Most counties do not require registration.

  • Town of Easton – You must have your bicycle inspected and obtain a permit card and license.
  • Montgomery County – You must register your bicycle.

- VA: It depends on the county. In some counties, it is required; in others it is voluntary.

  • City of Alexandria: Registration is required.
  • City of Manassas Park: Registration/License is required.