Washington State Bicycle Laws That All Seattle Cyclists Should Know

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In order to drive a motor vehicle legally, you need to practice, study, and ultimately pass certain tests. This does not mean drivers always follow the rules, but they do have to prove initially that they know what the rules are. However, there are no prerequisites when it comes riding a bicycle. Anyone can get on a bike without any kind of prior training or licensing. In this case, it is up to cyclists to learn Washington State bicycle laws and follow them at all times.

Because Washington State is on its way to becoming a more bicycle-friendly area, especially since Seattle’s acquisition of Pronto Bike Share, it is particularly important to know the state rules regarding bicycles on the road.

Arming yourself with this information can prevent you or a loved one from becoming the victim of an accident and injury at the hands of a careless driver. You will also have the law on your side if you decide to file a claim against the driver.

What are Washington State’s bicycle laws?

In states such as Washington where bicycle riding is becoming much more prevalent, it is important for anyone who operates a bicycle to know their rights and responsibilities as a bicyclist, and how these rights and responsibilities coincide with those of vehicle drivers on the road.

According to RCW § 46.61.755, a cyclist has all the rights and responsibilities of a vehicle driver when driving on a roadway. This means a bicyclist has the same duty as a vehicle driver to pay attention to traffic lights, stop signs, and must signal when turning.

How must bicyclists signal?

Bicyclists must, by law [RCW § 46.61.758], signal all turns (usually with their left hand). Common signals include:

  • Turning left: Hold your arm out to your side, parallel to the ground. Either extend all of your fingers or point with your index finger.
  • Turning right: Hold your arm out at a 90-degree angle, with your hand pointing upward. You can also use your right hand to indicate a right turn: hold your arm out straight to the side, parallel to the ground. Either extend all of your fingers or point with your index finger.
  • Stopping/slowing down: Hold either arm out sideways at a 90-degree angle, pointed down.

Check out this video from The League of American Bicyclists for a helpful visual. Always look before turning, both before and after signaling.

Do bicyclists have to wear helmets?

Currently, Washington has no state laws requiring helmet use when riding a bicycle. However, certain counties in Washington have enacted their own laws requiring all bicyclists to wear a helmet. In 1993, King County passed an ordinance requiring people of all ages to wear helmets; the county updated the ordinance in 2003 to include Seattle.

Can cyclists ride on every public road?

No. For safety reasons, many highway systems are off-limits to bicyclists [RCW § 46.61.160]. Local governments can also enact laws banning bicyclists from certain areas in busy districts, such as business districts.

What are the rules for night riding?

RCW § 46.61.780 requires every bicycle that operates after dark to have lights on both the front and back:

  • Front: white light (not a reflector) visible for 500 feet
  • Back: red rear reflector visible for up to 600 feet (must be state patrol-approved)

Who has the right of way: the pedestrian or the bicyclist?

A bicyclist must yield to a pedestrian on a sidewalk or crosswalk. Bicyclists must also give an audible signal (e.g., using the bike’s horn) when attempting to pass a pedestrian on the sidewalk.

What are the rules regarding children and bicycle riding?

Parents are responsible for their children following bicycle laws and may not knowingly permit their child to commit violations [RCW § 46.61.700].

What else do I need to know about Washington bicycle laws?

  • Cyclists who violate laws may receive citations [RCW § 46.61.750].
  • Cyclists may choose to ride wherever they feel safest: path, bike lane, shoulder, or travel lanes; however, according to Seattle Municipal Code 11.44.040, if a cyclist is traveling slower than the “normal and reasonable flow of motor vehicle traffic,” he must ride as close to the right side of the right through/straight lane as possible.
  • There may only be one person per seat; riding on handlebars or pegs is not legal [RCW § 46.61.760].
  • You may also want to check out our guide to biking in Seattle and read up on how to ride a road bike before your next trip.

What should I do if I sustained injuries on my bicycle?

If you suffered injuries in a bicycle accident caused by a negligent driver, be sure to run your case by a bicycle accident attorney at Max Meyers Law PLLC.

Contact Max to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation and be sure to order a complimentary copy of his eBook, Bicycle Accident Secrets Unlocked before your appointment.

Max Meyers
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Max is a Kirkland personal injury attorney handling cases in Seattle, King County & surrounding in WA State.