Cycling Safety And The Laws

Bicycles are no doubt vehicles, and of course, there is no way bicycles can escape from getting its own safety laws and regulations when on the road. Therefore, all riders are required take full responsibilities and obey the laws when cycling and sharing road with other road users. But, there are hundreds of countries in the world, and thousands of different cycling laws. So we will be looking into the cycling road laws and rules of five different countries, which are the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Australia and Japan.

Road rules in the United States (Washington)

I’ve been riding a lot around Washington and did research on some things you should and shouldn’t do. Some areas around the US require that a cyclist register their bicycles or even having put a license plate. This eases the search for stolen property, as bike theft has seen to be escalating lately. In my area, Washington, offers the Share the Road license plate to protect your bike from being stolen. Aside from being stolen, bikes parked illegally or without locks are considered as abandonment, which will be confiscated by the police.

Incredibly, unlike countries like Australia, Washington doesn’t have a helmet law. It is legal that cyclists of all ages are not required to wear a helmet when cycling. Although I don’t normally wear one when I sometimes cycle to work or quick grocery shopping, it is still advised to wear a helmet at all times, especially kids. One fall might break your head instead of the bike.

Like other road users, cyclists should obey traffic signs and signals. By implementing ‘Idaho Stop’, which means that the rider must acknowledge the stop sign to be a yield sign and a red light as a stop sign, cyclists are bound to be safer and more efficient when on the road.

Bicycle laws in Washington also includes a ‘where to ride’ rule to give priority to vulnerable road users such as a pedestrian, a wheelchair user and other cyclists. Many areas around the US have a bike-only path, which is specially marked bicycle lanes on the roadway, and no cars or other motor vehicles and pedestrians are allowed on the path (except when making a turn). Other cities in the US forbid riding on sidewalks unless marked, but Washington allows riders to ride on sidewalks or crosswalks given that cyclists must yield the right-of-way to approaching pedestrians. Once this rule is violated, a rider can be fined up to US$500. Bikes are prohibited to be used on freeways, unless there are no alternative routes to your desired destination.

Road rules in the United Kingdom

In the UK, laws applied to all vehicles must be obeyed also by cyclists. These rules are all according to the Highway Code:

What you should do:

  • Have both front and rear bike lights (flashing/non-flashing). Rear bike lights must be red, while front ones must be white, and pedals must have four amber pedal reflectors, two at each side.
  • Ensure that brakes are always efficient. A defective brake can do no good to anyone.
  • Ride no more than two abreast on the road. Unbelievably, you and your friend can ride side by side. If the road is narrow or busy, or you intend to make a turn, you should ride in a single file.
  • Ride in the middle of the lane. You don’t have to always ride on the side of roads. You can also overtake cars if you are able to keep up with the traffic. The Highway Code says that other road users should give as much space to cyclist when they are overtaking a car. This law was given permission to prevent dangerous overtaking. You are also able to avoid colliding to car doors when riding at the side. But it is important that you are able to see and be seen.
  • Ride outside bicycle lanes. Unlike in the US, the Highway Code states that bicycle lanes aren’t compulsory for bicycle users, although it is proved to be safer.

You can head on to UK’s Highway Code for more information about their cycling rules.

What you shouldn’t do:

  • Ride while high on alcohol or drugs
  • Ride in an inconsiderate and dangerous manner
  • Carry a passenger in a one-seat bicycle
  • Holding on to a moving vehicle while on the road
  • Ride on a pavement, unless stated as a shared pavement
  • Ride through red lights without stopping

Now that the number of cyclist in the UK has increased over the years, the amount of fines has also increased. A person get be fined up to £50 in a less serious offence. The most common offence caught is not stopping at red lights, riding on pavements and not having bike lights. In serious cases, one may be prosecuted at court.

Road rules in France

The Direction de la sécurité et de la circulation routières (DSCR) is the government body that is responsible for the usage, laws and safety of French road and also the ‘code de la route’, which is the French equivalent of UK’s Highway Code. It includes laws and rules to all road users, and responsibilities of a cyclist when using French roads.

Roads in France are shared by both motor vehicles and bicycles, and there must be mutual respect for these road users. In France, all cyclists must be well-equipped with all the necessities a bike should have. A well-equipped bike should have:

  • Faultless brakes, one front and one rear
  • Bike lights, yellow or white in the front, red for the rear
  • A bike bell for attracting attention
  • Reflectors, white ones in front, red ones for the back, orange ones on the pedals
  • All cyclists must wear reflective vests or jackets, in places with poor visibility and at night

What you should do:

  • Ride on the right-hand side of the road. To be exact, 1 meter from the pavement and parked cars
  • Stick to bike paths where possible
  • Keep a safe distance of 1m away from moving vehicles when riding on the road
  • Ride slightly forward of vehicles at junctions so that you are seen easily
  • In zones where the speed limit is 30 km/h and in a pedestrian-priority zone, you are allowed to cycle in both directions.
  • Keep to the right when cycling around corners so that cars would be able to see you

What you shouldn’t do:

  • Zigzag between cars
  • Cycle on the pavement. The pavement is only allowed for kids under 8 years of age to cycle their bikes
  • Cycle faster than 20 km/h in pedestrian-priority zones. You have to respect pedestrians as they are vulnerable road users
  • Ride to close to the sides of the road to avoid uneven ground, ruts and gravel

Road rules in Australia

Different parts of Australia have different bike rules and every cyclist is required to follow normal road rules, such as obeying traffic signs and signals. Cycling laws in Australia is very strict; disobey of the laws will be given the same fines as motorists. In Western Australia and Tasmania, bike users must use both hand gestures as signals, while in Victoria, Queensland and Northern Territory, riders must signal when turning right, but not necessary when turning left. Also, they must have at least one hand on handlebars (no hands-free), and one leg on each side of the pedals. Cyclists over 18 years of age must carry personal identification with them in areas of New South Wales.

When riding a normal one-seat bicycle, you are not allowed to carry people, unless the bike is design as such (eg. a bike designed with a baby stroller attached). In Australia, there is a must-wear-helmet law, unlike in Washington, and unless you have medical reasons and certified by a doctor. The bike must also have a working bell to draw attention. As for bike lights, it is almost similar to what stated in the UK’s Highway Code: white (flashing or steady) lights in front, and red light and reflector for the back.

A bike-only sign

Similar to Washington, Australia also have a ‘where to ride’ law. Bike path are available in some parts of Australia. The path is normally painted green with a white bicycle-only lane sign. You are free to choose whether to ride on the lane or not, just like ‘code de la route’ in France. In some parks, the path is separated to a bike-only and a pedestrian-only path. You must never intercept the pedestrian path. On shared paths, you must keep left and give way to pedestrians and ride towards the left of other cyclists riding towards you.


Other than that, when riding with a partner, you must not rider more than 1.5m apart from each other. You must also avoid from riding abreast with more than 2 riders, unless overtaking another rider, similar to the road rules of France.

Common offences in Australia:

  • Not stopping at red lights
  • Turning at a no U-turn sign
  • Not stopping at a stop sign at an intersection
  • Disobeying speed limits in a speed-limited zone
  • Carrying passengers in single-seated bikes
  • Failing to give ways to vulnerable road users, especially pedestrians, in shared paths
  • Not displaying lights during nighttime
  • Failing to wear an Australian Standard (AS) approved bike helmet

Road rules in Japan

Most Japanese, especially students, cycle to work and school, as it is a very convenient mode of transportation. You are able to avoid crowded public transport during rush-hour and also able to reach home faster than walking. Cycling is possibly the best way to get around Japan.

In Japan, cyclists are not allowed to ride on pedestrian sidewalks unless they are under 13 years old, over 70, or disabled. If you have no other choice other than the sidewalk, you must never ride more than 10 km/h, and give priority to pedestrians. If there is a given bike path, then it is illegal to ride on the road. This law is barely enforced and there are still riders riding outside of bike lanes and some prefer to ride on the pavements. When riding on the road, make sure to keep left. A fine of ‎¥20,000 (US$ 174) will be charged or jailed for up to 30 days if you cycle against the flow of traffic.

Similar to that of the Australian bike laws, cyclists in Japan are not allowed to leave their hands off bike handlebars. It is also illegal to hold an umbrella or using cell phone when cycling. As all bike laws states, bike lights and bike bells are mandatory in all bikes. If you fail to turn on your lights at night, you will be stopped by a police.

Bikes in Japan must be registered, as of the laws in Washington, for a small fee in the bicycle store or your nearest police station since bike thefts have been increasing, opposing to the ‘safe and honest’ image of Japan. Bikes are normally stolen by drunk salary-men, where they steal the first bike they see on the road to go back. Recovery rates of stolen bikes are also very low; you won’t be able to get back your bike once it’s stolen. Therefore, police will sometimes stop you to see your papers.

Bike users are never allowed to drink and ride. Drunkards are normally locked up for a night to sober up if caught. Drink and ride will also cost you a fine of up to ‎¥1,000,000 (US$ 8,707) or up to 5 years of prison.

What you shouldn’t do:

  • Disobey traffic signals and signs (red light, stop signs, etc)
  • Ride in pedestrians-only lanes
  • Ride against traffic
  • Crossing the railroad when the barrier is down
  • Ride with the influence of alcohol
  • Reckless cycling


There are many bicycle laws that we should obey, and different countries have all sorts of laws. Now you know better of the difference between countries, what you should do and shouldn’t do. Never assume bike laws of other countries to be same as those of your country, you may get fined or locked up for implementing the laws of your country in foreign places.

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