FAQs concerning a bicyclist’s rights and duties

As vulnerable road users, bicyclists are eager for information on their rights and responsibilities. Similarly, motorists want to know when they are in the right or in the wrong. The fundamentals of bicycle law are quite simple, but the details of the law are quite complex. Below are a few answers to commonly asked questions about rights and responsibilities of those traveling on South Carolina roadways.These are guidelines and general pointers; they do not take the place of legal advice.  If in doubt or with specific questions, do not hesitate to contact Peter Wilborn of Bike Law. He is a full-time bicycle attorney and is always available to discuss bike laws at pwilborn@bikelaw.com or 877-316-4310.

Do I ride with or against car traffic?

This is the most common question about bike law and the issue that causes the most collisions. Bicyclists must always ride in the same direction as traffic. When riding against traffic, bicyclists cannot see traffic signals and signs, and are unpredictable and less visible to drivers. Bicyclists are much safer when riding with the direction of automobile traffic. For more information on this topic, check out our video PSA and resources on How to Ride.

Where am I supposed to ride on the road?

Motorists sometimes yell and tell me where to ride. What is right? Generally, a bike is supposed to be driven like a car: In the road, in the right-most lane that takes you to your destination, and as far to the right in that lane as “practicable.” Practicable is a strange word, but it does not mean as far right as “possible.” Sometimes, road conditions (sand, broken concrete, drainage covers, etc.) make the far right of a road an unsafe place to ride. The law requires, and common sense dictates that a rider should ride nearest the right-most side of a lane—but how far to the right may depend on conditions. For more on this topic, view our How to Ride resources.

Can I ride on a sidewalk?

Generally, you should not ride on the sidewalk, but occasionally they are the safest place to ride. On whole, sidewalks are surprisingly dangerous places to ride, as they have more hidden driveways, intersections, and surface irregularities than roads. There is no statewide law prohibiting sidewalk riding, and there are about as many different local laws about sidewalk riding as there are municipalities in South Carolina. And the answer to sidewalk riding may be different for young bicyclists.

Further, pedestrians feel less safe with fast-moving bicycles in space designed primarily for them. However, biking on suburban sidewalks along a 55mph roadway, with relatively few curb cuts, may be the only place to ride, and this can work with both road users as long as the bicyclists watch out for pedestrians, and the sidewalks are wide enough for bicyclists and pedestrians. Ultimately, those sidewalks can and should be reconfigured as multi-use paths, which are a few feet wider than the typical 5 foot sidewalk.

Do I have to ride on a multi-use recreational path when it is next to a road?

No. South Carolina law does not require that a bicyclist use a recreational path when it is adjacent to a roadway. Such paths are often difficult to use and unsafe because of the presence of other users. Some resort towns believe that bicyclists can be restricted to such paths, but bicyclists cannot be forced to use paths adjacent to public roads. Bicyclists do have to use bicycle lanes that have markings for the exclusive use of bicyclists. Usually, these are painted lanes on the roadway. The difference between path and lane might be confusing in principle but should be obvious on the road.

What are my duties as a bicyclist while riding?

Generally, a bicyclist is subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle. Most importantly, that means you must obey all traffic signals and signs. Stop signs and red lights are not discretionary! Read more about your duties in our How to Ride resources.

Can bicyclists ride two abreast?

Yes, but by law bicyclists can ride no more than two side-by-side. This issue is one of the most controversial aspects of recreational cycling; nothing frustrates drivers more than being stuck behind a pack of bicyclists riding two abreast. What is poorly understood is that riding two abreast is often safer for bicyclists, especially on narrow roads.That does not mean that two abreast is always the best approach. On wider roads or in heavy traffic, single file riding will help keep motor vehicle traffic flowing smoother and may be safer for all.

What are the requirements for riding a bike at night?

Most serious bike collisions happen at night, so ride with care and pay attention! You must have a white light in the front that can be seen from a distance of at least 500 feet, and a red reflector on the rear that must be visible from at least 50 feet when directly in front of the lawful headlamps of a motor vehicle. A rear red blinkie light can be used in place of the rear reflector, and is strongly encouraged for improved visibility and safety. Find out more about important safety equipment in our Signals & Safety resources.

What should I do if I'm in a crash with a car?

Always call and wait for the police to arrive. Do not be overcome by shock and let the driver leave the scene. A police investigation is crucial to make sure that your rights are protected. Do not grow discouraged if the police get it wrong as to who was at fault. We have been able to change that determination many times, as the police are most interested in getting it right and are usually willing listen to more information about the law and circumstances after the fact. If necessary, seek medical attention immediately.

I've heard something about a law that makes it illegal for a driver to yell or throw things at me while I am riding my bike. What can I do if this happens while on the road?

Yes, it is a CRIME for an occupant in a car to harass a bicyclist. A crime. If it happens, get the driver’s license plate number and call the police from the scene—do not wait to call until you return home. Wait for the police to arrive and file a report on what happened. What can happen next depends on so many factors, including the severity, the attitude of the police, the location of the driver, and on and on. Many times, nothing really happens next. But this reality should not discourage you from making a report. Police officers are slowly learning of this law and how best to enforce it. Our job as bicyclists is to participate in lawful practices (and sometimes even inform the reporting officer of the law itself).

Do I have to wear a helmet?

We do, on every ride. It is not mandatory, but is a must nevertheless. Helmets have gotten so light and comfortable that there is really no excuse not to.

Safe Streets Save LivesCheck out the FAQs concerning motorists’ rights and duties