Easter usually introduces warmer weather and the chance for many of us to pull our bicycles out of storage.
Ohio recently updated an aspect of its bicycle law. Beginning last month statewide, a car passing a bicycle must remain at least 3 feet away from the bicycle when passing that bicycle. Previously, the required clearance between motor vehicles and bicycles was a more subjective “reasonable distance.”
In general, the law on bicycle operation is consistent with the laws on all vehicles in Ohio.
Local communities can adopt their own laws concerning bicycles as long as the local communities’ laws are not “fundamentally inconsistent” with Ohio’s state laws concerning bicycles.
Bicycles are generally expected to be operated upon roads, like cars. Local communities can allow bicycles to be operated upon sidewalks, too, but local communities cannot require that all bicycles be exclusively operated upon sidewalks. Stated more directly, local communities are not to discourage bicycle use by not allowing bicycles on public streets and roads.
Obviously, Ohio’s limited access highways (freeways) that preclude certain farm machinery and non-traditional vehicles from use also prohibit bicycles.
When a bicycle is operated on a road or street, the bicycle is required to travel within the same travel lane that the car traffic is occupying. In other words, it is unlawful to ride a bicycle “against car traffic,” even if the lanes of travel are very wide.
In Ohio, generally bicycles, like cars, must honor the roadway lanes that are marked or recognized on roadways. Often, I see movies where bicycle or motorcycle operators will speed between lanes of stopped car traffic, especially in cities. Local communities may be able to allow such operation of bicycles, but state law does not allow “straddling” lanes of car traffic.
In fact, a bicycle must be operated in the far-right lane of a road unless departure from that lane is necessary to continue travel or make a left-hand turn. For instance, the use of turn lanes adjacent to traffic lights can reasonably lead a bicyclist to use a lane other than the far-right one.
And, when a bicyclist is in the right lane, the bicyclist is expected to stay as far to the right within that right lane as practicable, in order for motor vehicles to pass on the left, with the newly clarified 3 feet of clearance.
Until a little over a decade ago, many people understood that it was generally unlawful for a novice bicyclist (driving slow) to travel on a road or street with a significantly higher speed limit than the cyclist’s and bike’s capabilities could expect to operate. This was because Ohio law generally prohibited anyone from travelling at unreasonably slow speeds on any given road based upon the road’s conditions, the road’s speed limit and the weather and time of day.
However, the law was updated so that “unreasonably slow speed” in this context is defined to include considerations of the “capabilities of the vehicle and its operator.” Nonetheless, bicycle use remains prohibited on Ohio’s freeways.
Lee R. Schroeder is an Ohio licensed attorney at Schroeder Law LLC in Putnam County. He limits his practice to business, real estate, estate planning and agriculture issues in northwest Ohio. He can be reached at Lee@LeeSchroeder.com or at 419-659-2058. This article is not intended to serve as legal advice, and specific advice should be sought from the licensed attorney of your choice based upon the specific facts and circumstances that you face.