Texting? Sidewalks? Helmets? 5 surprising D.C. bicycle safety laws

Texting? Sidewalks? Helmets? 5 surprising D.C. bicycle safety laws
Bicycle parked on Capitol Hill

So, you’re ready to join the growing number of Washington commuters who rely on bicycles to get to and from work.

The city’s new designated bike lanes are enticing, and why not be environmentally friendly while getting some exercise?

Well, a little research may be in order if you want to successfully — and legally — navigate the city streets riding your bicycle among the cars, trucks and taxis.

Just to get you started, here are five surprising Washington, D.C. bicycle laws.

1. Helmets are required only for those under the age of 16.

2. Riding on a sidewalk is permitted in the city, as long as it's not in the Central Business District.

3. Talking or texting on your cellphone while riding is legal in D.C. (That doesn't make it smart.)

4. You don't need to register your bike with the city. That law ended in 2008.

5. If a cyclist gets "doored" by a motorist exiting his car, it's the motorist's fault, not the cyclist's.

Do you have to wear a helmet?

When talking to Washington bicycle shops, it's clear the biggest misconception among bike shoppers is the helmet law.

"Although you don’t have to wear a helmet if you are over 16, we still sell a lot of helmets for all ages," says Alex Finkel of the highly rated The Bike Lane in Springfield, Virginia. 

He says wearing a helmet is always a smart decision, and usually he suggests shoppers wear one when they test ride a bike from the shop to see if it fits.

Tim Fricker of the highly rated Bikes@Vienna in Northern Virginia agrees with Finkel about the helmet law. "That's one question we get a lot," he says.

Fricker also gives new customers a packet of information about local bicycle laws and guidelines when they make their first purchase. "That's something helpful because some customers come in knowing more [about the laws] than others," Fricker says.

Need more information, or want to test your knowledge of bicycle laws in your community? Check out the Washington Area Bicycle Association.