Passing laws: Virginia requires that in the event a motor vehicle passes a bicycle it shall leave a safe distance, not less than 2 feet, when passing the bicycle.
Helmet law: There is no state law in Virginia that requires the operator of a bicycle to wear a helmet. However, the governing body of any county, city or town may, by ordinance, require any person 14 years or younger, as an operator or passenger, be required to wear a helmet. If there is an applicable statute requiring the use of a helmet, the failure to use one shall not constitute negligence or contributory negligence in any civil action and shall not bar or limit any damages claimed by the injured cyclist nor be admissible in a court of law.
Vulnerable User Laws – to Protect the Bicyclist: Virginia does not have any vulnerable user laws enacted at this time. However, the League of American Bicyclists has drafted a Model Vulnerable Road User Statute, which you can find here.
Distracted Driving Laws: As almost every bicyclist knows, distracted driving creates one of the most dangerous risks to a bicycle on a public road way. Every state has varying laws to attempt to reduce the amount of distracted driving that exists. Nonetheless, it still presents a serious problem.
In Virginia there have been laws passed to attempt to reduce distracted driving by punishing violators. Here is a summary of the present laws. There will be links at the end of this article to the specific laws in full detail.
- A person who holds an instruction permit may not drive a vehicle on a roadway while using a wireless phone regardless of whether it is or is not hand-held;
- A person, regardless of age, may not manually text while operating a motor vehicle;
- A person may not operate a motor vehicle on a roadway while using an electronic communication device to read or send a text message;
- A school bus driver may never operate a school bus while using his/her cell phone; and
- It is unlawful to operate a motor vehicle, bicycle or moped while having an earphone in both ears.
Where to Ride – Lane Position Laws for a Bicyclist: Generally speaking, Virginia law requires bicyclists to be as close to the right hand edge of the road as possible. However there are some important exceptions that I will outline below:
- When passing another bicycle or vehicle proceeding in the same direction;
- When preparing to take a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway;
- When reasonably necessary to avoid unsafe conditions such as riding in a lane that is too narrow;
- When approaching a place where a right turn is authorized; or
- When upon a one-way highway with two or more marked traffic lanes, in which case a bicyclist may ride as near the left-hand curb or edge of such roadway as is practicable.
Sidewalk Riding: The general rule in Virginia is that you are permitted to ride on sidewalks. However, there are certain rules and exceptions that must be followed. So you may ride on a sidewalk subject to the following:
- You must yield the right of way to any pedestrian and shall give audible signal before overtaking and passing such pedestrian;
- You are not allowed to ride on the sidewalk or crosswalk where such use of bicycles is prohibited by official traffic-control devices or is prohibited by a county, city, or town ordinance; and
- You have all the rights and duties applicable to a pedestrian under the same It is important to note that Virginia does not require that bicyclists use any lane or path other than a normal vehicular traffic lane. So if there is a sidewalk, the choice or road or sidewalk is yours to make.
Riding a Bike under the Influence: Virginia’s law prohibiting driving while under the influence of alcohol or other controlled substances is written so that it applies to motor vehicles and therefore does not directly apply to bicyclists. However bicycles should not be operated while under the influence.
Stop Sign Laws: Virginia law provides that, notwithstanding any other provision of law, when a bicycle approaches an intersection controlled by a traffic light, the rider may proceed through the intersection on a steady red light if, and only if, the rider:
- Comes to a full stop;
- Exercises due care as provided by law;
- Otherwise treats the traffic control device as a stop sign;
- Determines that it is safe to proceed; and
- Yields the right of way to the driver of any vehicle approaching on such highway from other direction.
Door Laws: Virginia requires that no person open their door on the side nearest to moving traffic unless it is safe to do so and can be done without interfering with the movement of traffic.
Important Resources and Links