OHIO BIKE LAWS
By Steven M. Magas, Ohio’s Bike Lawyer
I originally wrote this piece in 2010. Today I am modifying, adding some new content and republishing this summary of Ohio Bike Laws.I am including a brief discussion of “Home Rule” issues and local municipal codes.
Have you ever wondered what “The Law” actually SAYS about riding a bicycle? Many Ohio riders are familiar with some of the common rules or phrases. The “AFRAP” rule, for example. Most cyclists have an “opinion” on what “AFRAP” means but have you ever reviewed the actual statutory language?
Many folks also have a sense that we have a “right” to ride our bicycles on the roadway, but where does that right come from? What limitations are there on that right? Can that right be taken away? Can cities pass their own bike laws? Can those be different from State Law?
WOSU in Columbus is a public radio station associated with The Ohio State University. Ann Fisher’s All Sides is a very popular show. Ann has invited Steve to be on her annual “Bike” show for the past few years.
A few years ago, a number of us on the Board of the Ohio Bicycle Federation took on the challenge of listing the most important laws applicable to cyclists in Ohio. You can read the actual results of our efforts on the OBF’s website.
Below are annotated excerpts of laws that EVERY Ohio Cyclist should be familiar with – at least those who want to venture out on the roadway. I’ve highlighted in bold some of the most critical language and have added some commentary in italics.
Where to start? Why at the beginning of course – with Title 45 of the Ohio Revised Code. “Title 45” contains the laws that govern operation of all vehicles on Ohio roads, including bicycles. The laws describe what a driver is required to do or prohibited from doing. But laws do not tell people how to drive. That is the function of a driver’s manual.
You can find ALL Ohio laws in the Ohio Revised Code, and the Traffic Laws in Title 45. If you actually go to the library and want to pull the books off the shelf, the entire Ohio Revised Code is a huge set of bright red books. The traffic laws are found in Title 45. Chapter 4511 of Title 45 contains the “Rules of the Road” and Chapter 4513 has the equipment rules.
Be warned, though, that these are only the STATE laws. There are 88 counties in Ohio and hundreds of cities, villages, and other political jurisdictions. In Hamilton County alone in addition to the City of Cincinnati there are some 48 other municipalities with their own “city codes” and “village ordinances,” including rules that purport to govern the operation of bicycles within city/village limits.
Under the Ohio Constitution’s “Home Rule” provisions each political body can and does pass its own laws. You will find local laws governing bicycle riding in many of these municipalities. Sometimes those local laws seem to, or actually do, conflict with State traffic law.Who wins THAT battle? The City or The State? What do you do if State Law says you can’t be banished to the sidewalk…and local law requires you use a sidewalk if one is available?? What if State Law says you may ride “two abreast” but a village ordinance mandates “single file” on certain roads or at certain times? These are either very easy or highly complicated issues depending on your view of “Home Rule!”
After my discussion of State Law I have added a discussion of this “Home Rule” issue… however, the Bottom Line is this
–> ALWAYS CONSULT LOCAL LISTINGS for additional laws applicable in your neighborhood!
SO, without further ado, I present….. Ohio’s Bike Laws…
OHIO REVISED CODE
- 4501.01. Definitions. As used in this chapter and Chapters 4503., 4505., 4507., 4509., 4511.,4513., 4515., and 4517. of the Revised Code, and in the penal laws, except as otherwise provided:
(A)”Vehicle” means every device, including a motorized bicycle, in, upon, or by which any person or property may be transported or drawn upon a highway, except that “vehicle” does not include any motorized wheelchair, any electric personal assistive mobility device, any device that is moved by power collected from overhead electric trolley wires or that is used exclusively upon stationary rails or tracks, or any device, other than a bicycle, that is moved by human power.
(G) “Bicycle” means “…every device, other than a device that is designed solely for use as a play vehicle by a child, that is propelled solely by human power upon which a person may ride, and that has two or more wheels, any of which is more than fourteen inches in diameter…”
Comment: A History Lesson is in order here. In the 1880’s bicycle operators wielded a LOT of political power. The “Good Roads Movement” was an organized political effort to force municipalities to pave roads. Farmers and cyclists banded together with some business interests, but cyclists led the way. The newly formed “League of American Bicyclists” developed a following of more than 1,000,000 very quickly. Courts began to recognize cyclists as having rights on the roadways, particularly when those new-fangled MOTOR vehicles started popping up!
In the late 1800’s the very first Vehicle Codes started to be written to try to put some order on the roadways. In virtually every case, including Ohio, a “bicycle” was included in the definition of “vehicle” and was recognized as having a right to the roadway. Certain special provisions for bikes were put into play, but all in all, cyclists used their political clout to get us a spot on the pavement!
In Ohio, a bicycle is defined as a vehicle and thus is governed by a uniform set of rules common to all vehicles and a small set of specific rules for bicycles. (There are other specific rules for other vehicle types, such as trucks or busses.) The definition of what types of things are “bicycles” was recently revised a couple of times to be broader in scope and to capture the many varied and unique vehicles which can be considered “bicycles.”
The most recent revision came as the result of an email I received from Dominic Latessa. Dominic has an autistic son who really enjoyed being driven around by Dominic in a device called a “Rhodes Car.” The Rhodes car is a 4-wheeled pedal vehicle. Clearly a “bicycle” type device which is pedaled [“solely propelled by human power”]. However, 4511.01(G)’s definition of “bicycle” at the time was limited to vehicles having up to THREE wheels – a definition which had been tweaked a few years earlier by another client of mine who was an avid “Trike” rider! Dominic’s attempts to take his son for a ride in his Rhodes Car on the streets landed him in hot water with local constabulary who pointed out that the device didn’t meet the “bicycle” definition and ordered him NOT to ride/use it on the roads!
Dominic reached out to me and I passed his story on to my fellow Ohio Bicycle Federation Board members. We were able to get the definition added to a bill we proposed in 2013. That bill included a Three Foot Law and other changes. That Three Foot Bill is STILL languishing in the Ohio Senate in 2016, but fortunately, the change of the definition of “bicycle” was swept up into an ominbus “Transportation” bill and passed into law in 2013…
The annotated list below summarizes the most important parts of the traffic rules and equipment rules that govern bicycle driving. People who try to make up their own rules have an accident rate five times higher than knowledgeable cyclists who follow the rules of the road.
- 4511.07. Local traffic regulations. (A) Sections 4511.01 to 4511.78, 4511.99, and 4513.01 to 4513.37 of the Revised Code do not prevent local authorities from carrying out the following activities with respect to streets and highways under their jurisdiction and within the reasonable exercise of the police power:
(8) Regulating the operation of bicycles: provided that no such regulation shall be fundamentally inconsistent with the uniform rules of the road prescribed by this chapter and that no such regulation shall prohibit the use of bicycles on any public street or highway except as provided in section 4511.051 of the Revised Code;
(9) Requiring the registration and licensing of bicycles, including the requirement of a registration fee for residents of the local authority; (B) No ordinance or regulation enacted under division (A)(4), (5), (6), (7), (8), or (10) of this section shall be effective until signs giving notice of the local traffic regulations are posted upon or at the entrance to the highway or part of the highway affected, as may be most appropriate.
Comment: ORC 4511.07 is an extremely important Code section as it both provides local governments with the power to regulate bicycle traffic but limits local government by requiring that local laws may not be contrary to state law and by prohibiting local government from passing “bike bans.” These two provisions are somewhat unique to Ohio and were developed by our OBF Board as part of a huge “Better Bicycling Bill” which we got passed in 2006.
When we looked at the state of the law in preparing the 2006 Better Bicycling Bill, there was a lot of discussion of the “patchwork quilt” of local laws that all of us faced. In the Cincinnati area alone, there are more than FORTY separate jurisdictions capable of passing “bike laws.” The number near Cleveland was even higher. Since there was no restriction on what those laws could say, we often found that neighboring cities and villages would have wildly different “bike laws” governing operation in the city/village – even along the very same stretch of roadway. Not only did this make it difficult for cyclists to know and obey local law, it just didn’t make sense.
One of the most important of the Bike Law reforms passed in the 2006 Better Bicycling Bill requires that any local regulations be consistent with the uniform rules of the road. In addition, signs are required to tell of any permitted local regulations.
Unfortunately, some communities have been very slow to remove non-conforming ordinances that mandate unsafe practices. In addition, the “Home Rule” issue still rears up and some municipalities believe they are not governed by 4511.07 and can pass whatever “bike laws” they want to govern bicycle travel on roads within their jurisdiction. This Home Rule argument is discussed at the end of this post.
- 4511.22. Slow Speed
(A) No person shall stop or operate a vehicle, trackless trolley, or street car at such an unreasonably slow speed as to impede or block the normal and reasonable movement of traffic, except when stopping or reduced speed is necessary for safe operation or to comply with law.
(C) In a case involving a violation of this section, the trier of fact, in determining whether the vehicle was being operated at an unreasonably slow speed, shall consider the capabilities of the vehicle and its operator.
Comment: The “slow speed” statute was amended in 2006 as the result of a case I handled – State v. Steven Selz. In the Selz case, Steve Selz was a true “transportation cyclist” – he owned no car and went everywhere by bike. In 1999, Steve was riding on S.R. 44 in Trotwood – a 5 lane, 45 mph roadway. After stopping at a light, Steve pedaled off up a long hill in the far right lane, with cars behind him. A police officer didn’t like seeing the cars behind him and pulled him over, citing him for “impeding traffic.”
I took the case pro bono, to try to help Steve out. At trial, we presented expert testimony that what Steve did was perfectly appropriate and that his speed was appropriate FOR A CYCLIST. The prosecution argued that if he could not travel at the 45 mph speed limit, he shouldn’t be on the road blocking “traffic.” I argued that under the definition of traffic in the Revised Code, Steve was not “impeding traffic” – rather the bicycle operator WAS “traffic” just like any slow moving vehicle. I argued that the intent of the law was not to push lawful bicycle operators off of any road where they could not reach speeds approaching the speed limit.
The trial judge disagreed and found Steve Guilty. We appealed and, with the help of the OBF, publicized Steve’s case through the Internet. The City of Trotwood got emails from all over the WORLD chastising it for prosecuting Steve.
We won a 2-1 decision on appeal, with the court holding that in analyzing an “impeding traffic” charge, the court must consider the capabilities of the vehicle and its operator. Since the officer conceded that Steve was going at a reasonable speed for a cyclist, the court overturned the conviction.
When the OBF Board looked at the state of the law in preparing the 2006 Better Bicycling Bill, we thought it would be important to change the “Slow Speed” statute to incorporate the holding of State v. Selz and the highlighted language was added. As noted, the Better Bicycling Bill passed unanimously and was signed into law by then-Gov. Taft in a ceremony at a bike trail near Cincinnati. The changes took effect in September 2006.
- 4511.25. Lanes of travel upon roadways of sufficient width.
(A) Upon all roadways of sufficient width, a vehicle or trackless trolley shall be driven upon the right half of the roadway except as follows:
(1) When overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction, or when making a left turn under the rules governing such movements;
(2) When an obstruction exists making it necessary to drive to the left of the center of the highway; provided, any person so doing shall yield the right of way to all vehicles traveling in the proper direction upon the unobstructed portion of the highway within such distance as to constitute an immediate hazard;
(3) When driving upon a roadway divided into three or more marked lanes for traffic under the rules applicable thereon;
(4) When driving upon a roadway designated and posted with signs for one-way traffic;
(5) When otherwise directed by a police officer or traffic control device.
(B)(1) Upon all roadways any vehicle or trackless trolley proceeding at less than the prevailing and lawful speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing shall be driven in the right-hand lane then available for traffic, and far enough to the right to allow passing by faster vehicles if such passing is safe and reasonable, except under any of the following circumstances:
(a) When overtaking and passing another vehicle or trackless trolley proceeding in the same direction:
(b) When preparing for a left turn;
(c) When the driver must necessarily drive in a lane other than the right-hand lane to continue on the driver’s intended route.
(B)(2) Nothing in division (B)(1) of this section requires a driver of a slower vehicle to compromise the driver’s safety to allow overtaking by a faster vehicle.
Comment: Section 4511.25(A) is a general rule that applies to all vehicles, including bicycles. Some people think it is safer to ride on the left to “see traffic coming”. This is illegal and wrong! Pedestrians walk facing traffic so they can sidestep off the road if necessary. But you cannot sidestep a bike. Riding on the left is both illegal and dangerous. Crash statistics show that wrong way riding has about 3½ times the risk as riding on the right.
Section 4511.25(B) simply means that slower vehicles should not unnecessarily delay faster traffic. (See also § 4511.55 below.) The language of (B)(2) is important as it gives a bicycle operator the right to make decisions, when being passed, based on safety concerns.
- 4511.27. Overtaking and passing of vehicles proceeding in the same direction. The following rules govern the overtaking and passing of vehicles or trackless trolleys proceeding in the same direction:
(A) The operator of a vehicle or trackless trolley overtaking another vehicle or trackless trolley proceeding in the same direction shall … pass to the left thereof at a safe distance, and shall not again drive to the right side of the roadway until safely clear of the overtaken vehicle or trackless trolley.
(B) Except when overtaking and passing on the right is permitted, the operator of an overtaken vehicle shall give way to the right in favor of the overtaking vehicle at the latter’s audible signal, and he shall not increase the speed of his vehicle until completely passed by the overtaking vehicle.
Comment: Since cyclists usually ride near the right side of the road, beginners are tempted to pass slow or stopped traffic on the right, especially in a “bicycle lane” with a painted line. Passing on the right is often dangerous and, in many cases, illegal.
There is a move afoot to add a “three foot rule” to the passing law. In 2009 a bill was introduced into the Ohio legislature [HB 174] which would establish a safe passing distance of “not less than three feet” whenever a motor vehicle overtakes a bicycle. At this writing, the next step in moving HB 174 towards becoming a new “law” will be to set up hearings at which proponents of the bill can testify. I have testified several times in Columbus on “bike” bills, and hope to do so again on this one.
In 2013 another Three Foot Bill was introduced. Included was a provision which would allow cyclists to go through a red light that doesn’t change to green due to a signal detector which fails to detect a cyclist. These two provisions are still percolating before the Ohio legislature as I write this update in August 2016. We [OBF Board] hope to encourage the legislature to consider the bill in the Fall session… but with Presidential politics taking center stage in 2016, that may be a tall order. If our bill does not pass by 12/31/2016 we will have to re-submit the bill in 2017 and start over again…
- 4511.31. Hazardous zones
(A) The department of transportation may determine those portions of any state highway where overtaking and passing other traffic or driving to the left of the center or center line of the roadway would be especially hazardous and may, by appropriate signs or markings on the highway, indicate the beginning and end of such zones. …
(B) Division (A) of this section does not apply when all of the following apply:
(1) The slower vehicle is proceeding at less than half the speed of the speed limit applicable to that location.
(2) The faster vehicle is capable of overtaking and passing the slower vehicle without exceeding the speed limit.
(3) There is sufficient clear sight distance to the left of the center or center line of the roadway to meet the overtaking and passing provisions of section 4511.29 of the Revised Code, considering the speed of the slower vehicle.
Comment: There is always “tension” when a car encounters a cyclist on a two lane road with a double yellow “no passing” marking. Typically, the cyclist is going slower than the speed limit – often, on 2 lane country roads – significantly slower. The thought with this change to the law was to make “legal” the actions that motorists were already taking and to discourage motorists from simply honking aggressively at cyclists to try to get them out of the way. The language added to Section 4511.31(B) should help reduce tension between cyclists and faster drivers. Now, they can pass in “no passing” zones IF passing is safe and the three elements of Section (B) are met. This was an important addition to the law which we incorporated in the 2006 Better Bicycling Bill.
- 4511.36. Rules for turns at intersections. The driver of a vehicle intending to turn at an intersection shall be governed by the following rules:
(A) Approach for a right turn and a right turn shall be made as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway.
(B) At any intersection where traffic is permitted to move in both directions on each roadway entering the intersection, an approach for a left turn shall be made in that portion of the right half of the roadway nearest the center line thereof and by passing to the right of such center line where it enters the intersection and after entering the intersection the left turn shall be made so as to leave the intersection to the right of the center line of the roadway being entered. Whenever practicable the left turn shall be made in that portion of the intersection to the left of the center of the intersection.
Comment: The rules for turns are exactly the same for bicycles as for other vehicles – merge to the appropriate position (right for right turns, left for left turns), yield to any traffic that has the right of way and then turn. A cyclist also has the option to make turns as a pedestrian by dismounting and walking the bicycle through the intersection.
Getting into position for a left turn may involve merging across lanes of traffic. If traffic is heavy, you should start doing this early to take advantage of gaps in traffic. Otherwise, there may not be a gap when you need it. Beginners, who have not yet developed the skill to merge in traffic, may make pedestrian-style turns instead.
It is interesting to note the legislature’s use of that word, “Practicable.” It comes up below in one of the most important rules of the road for cyclists, yet is completely UNDEFINED in the Ohio Revised Code. If you do a search of the entire O.R.C. for the word “practicable” you get 24 PAGES of “hits.” Obviously, it’s a word the legislature likes~ despite its lack of any definition!
In most laws, the use of the word “practicable” comes in the phrase “as soon as practicable” and defines a time when some act must be completed. Another use is found in the Rules for Use of Alternating Current” in MINES [ § 1567.17] as follows: If feed wires are installed in entries that are not equipped with trolleys, they are to be installed as close to the rib as practicable.
Clearly “practicable” has a meaning that includes SAFETY built into it. This is what I have been arguing for years. In this provision for making turns, the legislature is clearly indicating that they should be done SAFELY, from the perspective of the vehicle operator.
- 4511.39. Turn and stop signals. No person shall turn a vehicle or trackless trolley or move right or left upon a highway unless and until such person has exercised due care to ascertain that the movement can be made with reasonable safety nor without giving an appropriate signal in the manner hereinafter provided. When required, a signal of intention to turn or move right or left shall be given continuously during not less than the last one hundred feet traveled by the vehicle or trackless trolley before turning, except that in the case of a person operating a bicycle, the signal shall be made not less than one time but is not required to be continuous. A bicycle operator is not required to make a signal if the bicycle is in a designated turn lane, and a signal shall not be given when the operator’s hands are needed for the safe operation of the bicycle. …
Comment: Never turn or change lanes without first yielding to any traffic that has the right of way, and give a signal if possible. However, cyclists may SKIP the hand signal if the hand is needed on the bars for control or brakes.
- 4511.40. Hand and arm signals. (A) Except as provided in division (B) of this section, all signals required by sections 4511.01 to 4511.78 of the Revised Code, when given by hand and arm, shall be given from the left side of the vehicle in the following manner, and such signals shall indicate as follows: (1) Left turn, hand and arm extended horizontally; (2) Right turn, hand and arm extended upward; (3) Stop or decrease speed, hand and arm extended downward. (B) As an alternative to division (A)(2) of this section, a person operating a bicycle may give a right turn signal by extending the right hand and arm horizontally and to the right side of the bicycle.
Comment: The right-arm turn signal described in (B) above is more easily understood. This change in the law was brought about in 2004.
- 4511.52. Bicycles – issuance of ticket – points not assessed.
(A) Sections 4511.01 to 4511.78, 4511.99, and 4513.01 to 4513.37, of the Revised Code that are applicable to bicycles apply whenever a bicycle is operated upon any highway or upon any path set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles.
(B) Except as provided in division (D) of this section, a bicycle operator who violates any section of the Revised Code described in division (A) of this section that is applicable to bicycles may be issued a ticket, citation, or summons by a law enforcement officer for the violation in the same manner as the operator of a motor vehicle would be cited for the same violation. A person who commits any such violation while operating a bicycle shall not have any points assessed against the person’s driver’s license, commercial driver’s license, temporary instruction permit, or probationary license under section 4510.036 of the Revised Code. (C) Except as provided in division (D) of this section, in the case of a violation of any section of the Revised Code described in division (A) of this section by a bicycle operator or by a motor vehicle operator when the trier of fact finds that the violation by the motor vehicle operator endangered the lives of bicycle riders at the time of the violation, the court, notwithstanding any provision of the Revised Code to the contrary, may require the bicycle operator or motor vehicle operator to take and successfully complete a bicycling skills course approved by the court in addition to or in lieu of any penalty otherwise prescribed by the Revised Code for that violation.
Comment: 4511.52(A) Means that the standard traffic rules apply to bicycle drivers. These driving laws allow safe, fast and efficient travel. Riding on sidewalks or multi-use “bike paths” is moderately safe only if done at slow speeds and extremely carefully. Riding on paths is popular for recreation but provides only limited utility for transportation. Path riding is not covered in this digest. (B) Means that bicycle violators may be ticketed but will not have “points” assessed against any driver’s license, except for a DWI offense. (C) allows judges to offer a cycling skills course to violators.
- 4511.54. Prohibition against attaching bicycles and sleds to vehicles. No person riding upon any bicycle, coaster, roller skates, sled, or toy vehicle shall attach the same or self to any streetcar, trackless trolley, or vehicle upon a roadway.
ORC 4511.54 is fairly obvious. Bicycle operators can’t hang on to cars to be propelled forward. This is typically seen in the movies moreso than real life, but it IS prohibited conduct.
- 4511.55. Operating bicycles and motorcycles on roadway.
(A) Every person operating a bicycle upon a roadway shall ride as near to the right side of the roadway as practicable obeying all traffic rules applicable to vehicles and exercising due care when passing a standing vehicle or one proceeding in the same direction.
(B) Persons riding bicycles or motorcycles upon a roadway shall ride not more than two abreast in a single lane, except on paths or parts of roadways set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles or motorcycles.
(C) This section does not require a person operating a bicycle to ride at the edge of the roadway when it is unreasonable or unsafe to do so. Conditions that may require riding away from the edge of the roadway include when necessary to avoid fixed or moving objects, parked or moving vehicles, surface hazards, or if it otherwise is unsafe or impracticable to do so, including if the lane is too narrow for the bicycle and an overtaking vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane.
Comment: Section 4511.55(A) is one of the most important, and misquoted, bike laws in Ohio. Many folks [including many police officers] will tell cyclists that they are required to ride “as near as possible” to the curb. The law does NOT use the word “possible” That’s NOT what it says. The word “practicable” is an odd word, but it is a word that clearly incorporates the notion of SAFETY.
A new paragraph (C) [what I like to call “The C-Section”] was added to 4511.55 in the 2006 Better Bicycling Bill. This provision was intended to help reduce confusion about the meaning of the word “practicable.”
There are many conditions encountered by cyclists in which it is much safer to ride near the middle of the lane. It is not obviously not practicable (practice-able) to ride on the far right when passing on the left, or turning left. As you ride you will need to avoid objects in the gutter, parked cars, moving vehicles, pedestrians, animals, surface or other hazards. If the travel lane is too narrow for a bicycle and another vehicle to pass safely side by side within the lane you will want to move over and “take” the lane.
Cycling experts will routinely testify under oath that cyclists should NOT hug the white line, but rather should ride a few feet off the white line. This makes the bicycle operator more “conspicuous” to motorists coming up on the cyclist from behind or approaching from the front. This position also adds a margin of safety to the right for the rider. A cyclist who rides on the white line may be perceived by other traffic as not actually being “on the road” at all – and treated as someone who has no rights at all. A cyclist who is occupying a lane position well INTO the lane is making a very clear statement – “I AM TRAFFIC”
A cyclist who “hugs the curb” unintentionally invites motorists to pass within unsafe clearance – to try to pass without leaving the lane. I’ve often written that the lane divider, or center lines, are almost like a plate of glass to a motorist passing a cyclist and if the motorist thinks she/he can squeeze in between the cyclist and the divider line, they will do it regularly. Riding a few feet off the white line, or near the middle of a narrow lane helps overtaking motorists realize that they must “break the plane” of glass and use the next lane to pass.
Are faster vehicles required to slow down upon approaching a cyclist in the lane – yes, of course, unless they are intending to run over a live human being! However, NO law mandates unsafe operation of a vehicle and the phrase “as near right as practicable” must be viewed as highly flexible – varying widely according to conditions encounter by the cyclist. Positions well away from the edge of the road can be in compliance. Indeed, given 4511.55(C)’s provision on “narrow” roads, I would argue that a cyclist can IGNORE AFRAP on just about every road in Ohio since just about every road in Ohio is “too narrow” to be shared by a bicycle and a car or a truck or a bus.
Section 4511.55(B) allows riding two abreast. As a matter of courtesy, not law, it is often suggested that cyclists should avoid unnecessary delay to other traffic and “single up” when faster vehicles wish to pass, if such passing is safe and reasonable. However, it is often better, safer, faster and more efficient for a motorist to pass a block of 10 cyclists riding 2×2 than it is to pass a far longer line of cyclists riding single file.
As a matter of LAW, however, cyclists have the legal right to ride two abreast on every road in Ohio and are NOT required get out of the way of faster traffic.
In State v. Patrick, 153 Ohio Misc.2d 20, Tony Patrick and another rider were riding two abreast when a police officer ordered them to get off the road. They refused and Tony was ultimately stopped, TASERed, beaten and arrested by police and charged with felonies and misdemeanors. However, the trial judge dismissed all charges holding, in part, that cyclists have the right to ride two abreast and the officer had no right to stop Tony. The judge in that case, a cyclist himself, stated that while cyclists SHOULD display courtesy to motorists, there is no legal requirement that they give way.
- 4511.56. Bicycle signal devices.
(A) Every bicycle when in use at the times specified in section 4513.03 of the Revised Code, shall be equipped with the following:
(1) A lamp mounted on the front of either the bicycle or the operator that shall emit a white light visible from a distance of at least five hundred feet to the front and three hundred feet to the sides. A generator-powered lamp that emits light only when the bicycle is moving may be used to meet this requirement.
(2) A red reflector on the rear that 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;
(3) A lamp emitting either flashing or steady red light visible from a distance of five hundred feet to the rear shall be used in addition to the red reflector. If the red lamp performs as a reflector in that it is visible as specified in division (A)(2) of this section, the red lamp may serve as the reflector and a separate reflector is not required.
(B) Additional lamps and reflectors may be used in addition to those required under division (A) of this section, except that red lamps and red reflectors shall not be used on the front of the bicycle and white lamps and white reflectors shall not be used on the rear of the bicycle.
(C) A bicycle may be equipped with a device capable of giving an audible signal, except that a bicycle shall not be equipped with nor shall any person use upon a bicycle any siren or whistle. (D) Every bicycle shall be equipped with an adequate brake when used on a street or highway.
Comment: Since 2009 I have developed a Fatal Crash Project in which I gather the full crash report for EVERY fatal bicycle crash in Ohio. This includes the typical report along with witness statements, photos, cruiser cam video, field sketches and measurements and crash reconstruction analysis. I study these fatal crashes because they provide real insights into ongoing issues of safety and the relationship between motorists and cyclists in Ohio.
Fatal Bike Crashes often occur at night. An unseen cyclist puts him/herself in great danger. While we believe [no real data] that a fairly small percentage of all riding Almost HALF of all According to the Ohio Dept. of Public Safety data for 2007, about 62 percent of fatal bicycle crashes in Ohio occur during non-daylight hours (even though few cyclists ride then). The reflectors that come with new bikes are grossly inadequate for nighttime visibility. Always use both a headlight and taillight when you ride in the dark.
- 4511.711. Driving upon sidewalk area. No person shall drive any vehicle, other than a bicycle, upon a sidewalk or sidewalk area except upon a permanent or duly authorized temporary driveway. Nothing in this section shall be construed as prohibiting local authorities from regulating the operation of bicycles within their respective jurisdictions, except that no local authority may require that bicycles be operated on sidewalks.
Comment: Sidewalk riding is controversial. In the 2006 Better Bicycling Bill we added the highlighted language to this code section. We felt it was EXTREMELY important to make sure local authorities knew that they could not “ban” bicycle operation by mandating that bicycles only be ridden on the sidewalk. By the same token, we did not want to prevent communities from banning sidewalk riding.
Sidewalk riding is generally more dangerous than riding on the roadway. Accident studies show that even low-speed sidewalk riding has about double the accident rate as riding on the road. The danger increases with speed. If you ride on the sidewalk, every intersection and even every driveway is a potential collision site. Motorists crossing your path do not look for conflicting traffic on the sidewalk, especially if you are coming from the “wrong way”.
While there is no statewide ban on sidewalk riding, there are MANY jurisdictions that have some sort of sidewalk ban in place. In some cities, you are just flat out banned from riding a bike on the sidewalk. Some ban riding in a defined “business district” and others take the approach of banning riders over a certain age from riding on the sidewalk, while allowing young children to ride. As always, consult local listings for the laws in place near YOU.
As I pointed out above, Ohio cities have the power to draft their own laws – including traffic laws, and “bike laws.” Historically, we have had problems develop when neighboring cities passed conflicting laws governing bicycle operation.
In 2006, the Ohio Bicycle Federation developed and pushed through the legislature a series of “Bike Law” reforms that, among other things, prohibited local jurisdictions from passing local bike laws that conflict with state law.
I wish I could say “Voila – problem solved” but that’s not the case.
Ohio is a “Home Rule” state. This means our Ohio Constitution allows local jurisdictions a lot of power in passing their own laws. Whenever there’s a conflict between state law and an ordinance passed locally someone impacted by the conflict between the two laws may file a lawsuit challenging one or the other. Typically the city attorney argues that the city has the power to pass laws which differ from state law. These cases are always long, drawn out and very EXPENSIVE law suits requiring a tremendous amount of legal work. These battles are usually fought by large corporations or big special interest groups.
Two recent examples of “home rule” litigation bear this out.
In the “Tow Truck Case – City of Cleveland v. State of Ohio” of 2014, there was a conflict between city and state laws and rules governing tow truck operators. The city of Cleveland had rules for tow truck operators and the state had passed a law giving the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio [PUCO] the exclusive power to regulate “for hire motor carriers.” The state law included tow truck operators in the definition of “for hire motor carriers.” The City of Cleveland sued the State of Ohio, claiming the state law was unconstitutional based on the constitutional “home rule” provisions. The Ohio Supreme Court agreed – holding that a sentence of state law was unconstitutional. This ruling gave the City of Cleveland the power to regulate tow trucks within its jurisdiction.
In 2015, so-called “Fracking” laws came under fire. The little city of Munroe Falls, Ohio had long standing laws governing any mining or drilling operations within its boundaries. Much later, the state of Ohio passed laws governing mining permits throughout the state. Beck Energy obtained a state permit and started drilling in Munroe Falls. However, it was ordered to stop its “fracking” efforts by Munroe Falls based on the city’s mining ordinances. Beck Energy sued the city, claiming state law controlled over Munroe Falls’ local ordinances …and won. The Ohio Supreme Court Home Rule decision held that state law controlled in this case and found that cities throughout Ohio had no power to control mining within their boundaries.
How do Tow Trucks and Mining play into “Bike Laws,” you ask? Well, let’s say your city decides that it is “too dangerous” for you to ride your bike down Main Street during rush hour, so it passes a bike ban. Let’s say your city decides side-by-side riding of bicycles is “unsafe” and wants to limit you to single file riding. Let’s say your city paints nice green bike lanes and passes an ordinance mandating that cyclists must use them.
You point out that state law prohibits bike bans and allows two abreast riding and does not mandate bike lane usage… the city claims that it has the power, under Home Rule, to pass and law it wants to pass when it comes to governing bicycles… these two cases lay out the legal parameters for analyzing your argument and the city’s… who wins? I think state traffic laws prevail here. There is clearly a need for uniformity in traffic laws. Roads are made for the PUBLIC and laws governing the operation of vehicles on the roadway should be uniform. The state law permits regulation at the local level in a way that is not “fundamentally inconsistent” with state traffic law. This strikes me a fair balance. Cities may also govern cycling on sidewalks, which many do. They may NOT, however, pass laws that take away your basic right to use the roadway.
Perhaps a better example is the one I encountered in one of my cases. One small city near Columbus had an unlawful law which required cyclists to use a sidewalk if one was adjacent to the road. State law clearly says that cyclists cannot be banned from most roads and that cyclists cannot be forced to use the sidewalk. My client was riding lawfully on the road. He was rear-ended by an elderly driver and suffered a severe brain injury.
The city Police wrote the crash report and held my client “at fault” for “riding on the road” when there was an adjacent sidewalk. I reached out to the City Attorney and suggested that the city’s ordinance conflicted with state law. I asked if the city really wanted to get into a long legal battle over this issue – he agreed that it did not. The report was amended to reflect that state law trumped the city ordinance and my client’s personal injury claims arising out of the crash case proceeded unimpeded by the initial assessment in the crash report. Had the city, and its city attorney, not been as cooperative I would have likely filed a lawsuit seeking a declaration that the city ordinance was unlawful – a lawsuit which the city would have had to defend at great expense. Fortunately, we were able to avoid this through may have had serious problems in pursuing money damages for a client who did absolutely nothing wrong.
 Steve Magas, Ohio’s Bike Lawyer, is an avid cyclist and Ohio trial lawyer whose trial law practice has focused on protecting the rights of riders for more than 30 years. Steve has handled some 400 “bike cases” in which cyclists have been hurt or killed. Steve also sits on the Board of Trustees of the Ohio Bicycle Federation and regularly publishes articles on the legal aspects of cycling. Steve co-authored “Bicycling and the Law” with Olympic-cyclist-turned-lawyer, Bob Mionske and has given numerous presentations to lawyers, engineers and others on “Bike Law.” Steve’s practice stretches throughout Ohio and he has represented cyclists in every corner of Ohio– from Cincinnati to Cleveland – Columbus to Portsmouth – Bellefontaine to Marietta – Toledo to Youngstown – Mansfield – Springfield – Akron – Canton – and more!