Bicycle Laws


Contributed by Bill Brobst, Wheels of Dare Bicycle Club

The NC traffic laws define the rights and duties of bicyclists as well as the motorists with whom they share the roadway. State traffic laws consider bicycles, mopeds, and motorized bikes as legal road vehicles, and subject to the same laws, therefore cyclists must adhere to the traffic laws just as motorists must.

The following summary of the laws and good practices may by useful in keeping you safe and out of trouble with the motorists and police:

1. Bicyclists, including moped operators, have the right to ride on any public-maintained roadway, whether or not designated as a NCDOT Bicycle Route. But, please, ride predictably and courteously to keep traffic moving safely and to avoid accidents.

2. Bicyclists must ride on the right, in the same direction as the flow of other traffic. Never ride on the left against the flow of traffic. Motorists must give the cyclists are least a two-foot clearance when passing. Bicyclists should remain within 4′ of the right hand paved edge of the roadway. They have the right to be there, and the responsibility to stay there. A bicyclist is not required to ride on the shoulder, paved or not, since the shoulder is not legally defined as being part of the roadway. (But remember, whether the bottle hits the stone, or the stone hits the bottle, it’s going to bad for the bottle!)

3. While bicyclists should ride as far right as practicable, they may ride well out into the motor vehicle traffic lane under the following conditions: a. If he/she can maintain a speed not less than 10 mph under the posted speed limit, or the same speed as other vehicles on the roadway; b. If the right-hand edge of the roadway is in poor condition (gravel, potholes, etc.); and c. In order to rightfully claim a right-of-way to prevent being squeezed by passing two-way traffic.

4. Bicyclists must ride single file on any roadway shared with motorists. Avoid swerving and other sudden changes of direction or speed. Keep children off the high speed highways, even if they are experienced bicyclists with good traffic sense. Be sure to have a rearview mirror if you’re going ride on the highway.

5. Minor-age or slow adult bicyclists may ride on the sidewalks (there are precious few of them in Currituck County); it’s not recommended for fast adult bicyclists and may be unlawful unless the sidewalk is specifically and legally marked as a bikeway which meets the DOT bikeway safety standards (at least 6′ wide). And pedestrians have the right of way on sidewalks.

6. Motorists may approach and pass a bicyclist only at a safe lateral distance and with reasonable and proper speed. Overtaking motor vehicle operators are required to treat bicycles as legitimate vehicles, and pass only when it is safe to do so, clearing the bicycle by at least two feet. (But keep a close watch on pickup trucks, RVs, and boat trailers; their ideas of adequate clearance and safe passing procedures often differ from cyclist’s preferences.) Stay alert!

7. Bicyclists must use hand signals for turns and stops. Bicyclists must obey stop lights, stop signs, and other traffic signals, just as motor vehicles do; no buzzing through after a quick glance. (You can’t have it both ways– if you want the right to be treated as a vehicle driver, then you have to act like one.) If the bicyclist dismounts and walks beside the bike, the cyclist is then (and only then) a pedestrian, and subject to pedestrian rules instead. Intersections are a major location of serious bicycle accidents.

8. Bicyclists may choose to make a left turn from the appropriate lane, like other vehicles, with hand signals, or may dismount and walk the bicycle across the intersection, as a pedestrian.

9. Bicyclists must keep at least one hand on the handle bars at all times. No riding double except on a bike specially designed or equipped to carry more than one rider (tandem bikes or adult bikes with child seats). Hitching rides on moving motor vehicles is dangerous and unlawful.

10. When on a designated multi-use or bike path, the cyclist has the right of way over motor vehicles turning into or coming out of parking lots or driveways across the path. But remember the story of the stone and the bottle. Motorists might not be aware of that right-of-way law, and even if they are, they might not see you and might not even be looking for bicyclists. Brightly colored clothing will help them to see you.

11. In case of a bicycle accident involving death, injury, or property damage, the bicyclist must stop and report the accident to the police.

12. Riding at night requires a lighted white light in the front (visible 300′), and either a lighted red light and/or a red reflector in the rear (visible 200′). (But better to put the bike away at dark and not put your life in the hands of the motorists on dark, narrow, unfamiliar, and crowded roads, we have very few streetlights.)

13. The North Carolina Bicycle Helmet Law requires, as of Oct 1, 2001:

  • Every person under 16 years old must wear an approved bicycle helmet when operating a bicycle on any public road, public bicycle path, or other public right-of-way.
  • All child passengers falling at or below 40 pounds/40 inches must be carried in a separate restraining seat.
  • Any parent or legal guardian who knowingly allows a child to ride without a helmet or to ride as a passenger not secured in a restraining seat (when applicable) will be in violation of the law.
  • Violation of the law carries a $10 civil fine. The fine may be waived upon the receipt of satisfactory proof of purchase of helmet or restraining seat.

14. Watch for sand on the roads, especially near the beach area. A thin layer isn’t too bad, but if it is more than that, it can lead to loss of control. Many shoulders are covered with soft sand, and might be generally unrideable.

15. Adequate bicycle parking devices are still scarce on the Outer Banks. You’ll find some at the beach access areas and at a few of the shopping centers. Thefts do occur, so carry a lock and do the best you can.

For more information on Cycling on the Outer Banks, please visit: