Bike Laws

Throughout the Washington area, bicycles are generally treated as vehicles and bicyclists as operators of vehicles. There are, however, some notable exceptions.

  • The District Department of Transportation’s summary of D.C. bike laws is available here.
  • For the Virginia Department of Transportation’s official summary of Virginia bike laws, see this page.
  • For the Maryland State Highway Administration’s guide to bicycling, see this page.

In addition, WABA, DDOT, and the District’s Metropolitan Police Department have jointly created the WABA Pocket Guide to DC Bike Laws

The League of American Bicyclists has compiled a state-by-state summary of bicycling laws in the United States, including information on the laws of the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia.

Key Points:

  • After a successful 2014 legislative campaign in Virginia, all WABA jurisdictions have a 3-foot law requiring motorists to leave at least three feet of space when overtaking and passing a bicyclist.
  • Helmets are not required for adults, but are required for youth under the age of 16 in Maryland and the District. Virginia has no state-level helmet requirement in law, but allows localities to set helmet requirements by local ordinance. Helmets for youth under 15 are required in Virginia by the counties of Arlington and Fairfax, the cities of Alexandria, Fairfax, Falls Church and the town of Vienna.
  • In Maryland, a bicyclist must use a bicycle facility if it is present, subject to a number of safety exceptions.
  • In the District of Columbia, riding on the sidewalk is allowed outside the downtown central business district. In Maryland, bicycling on sidewalks is prohibited unless authorized by state law.  In Virginia, bicycling on sidewalks is authorized unless prohibited.
  • The Maryland and Virginia are two of the four remaining contributory negligence jurisdictions in the United States, along with North Carolina and Alabama. This means that in the event of a crash, monetary recovery may be denied to an injured party if he or she contributed in any way to the crash. Violations of traffic laws can be evidence of a bicyclist’s negligence.