Passing laws: Washington requires that in the event a motor vehicle passes a bicycle it shall leave a safe distance, and shall not return to the right side of the road until it has safely passed the bicycle.
Helmet law: There is no state law in Washington that requires the operator of a bicycle to wear a helmet. However, although not required by law it is strongly recommended.
Laws to Protect the Bicyclist: There are certain laws entitled “vulnerable user laws.” These laws, in essence, require the vehicle least at risk (automobile) to yield to the vehicle most at risk (bicycle). Washington has enacted vulnerable laws, and bicyclist are protected therein.
Washington law requires that:
- A person driving a motor vehicle shall not, in a reckless manner, drive the motor vehicle unnecessarily close to, toward, or near a bicyclist or pedestrian; and
- If found guilty, may be required to pay a fine of $5,000 and not less than $1,000. In addition, his/her driving privileges will be suspended for 90 days.
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 Washington 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, regardless of age, may not hold a wireless phone to their ear at any time 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;
Lane Position Laws for a Bicyclist: Generally speaking Washington law requires the bicyclist 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 make or while making turning movements; 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 practicable.
Sidewalk Riding: The general rule in Washington 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
- You have all the rights and duties applicable to a pedestrian under the same It is important to note that Washington 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: Obviously, it is never a good idea to drive any vehicle under the influence of alcohol. In Washington, the law specifically addresses an intoxicated bicyclist. An officer of the law may offer to transport a bicycle rider who appears to be under the influence of alcohol (or other drug). The officer may bring the intoxicated cyclist to a safe place; or release the rider to a competent person; and the officer shall not provide the assistance if the rider refuses. In addition, the officer, if he/she deems necessary may impound the vehicle. However, when the owner or sober rider request the bicycle back, it must be returned without any charges levied.
Stop Sign Laws: Generally, in Washington bicycles have to follow the same rules as motor vehicles regarding the requirement to come to a complete stop when directed to stop by traffic control devices and Washington does not authorize bicyclists to disobey traffic lights that fail to detect bicyclists.
Washington does provide that its state traffic laws does not prevent local authorities the jurisdiction and power within the reasonable exercise of the police power from regulating the operation of bicycles and requiring the registration and licensing of same, including the requirement of a registration fee
Important Resources and Links
Washington Department of Transportation Bicycle law resources, click here.
Bicycle Alliance of Washington Bicycle law resources, click here.