Bike Safety

Bike SafetyA 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.

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.

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]

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.


  • Safe Kids USA (a list of organizations around the state that can help with low-cost helmets)
  • (bulk-order low-cost helmets)