Important Washington, D.C. Bicycle Laws for Cyclists

If you’re riding your bike in the District of Columbia, it’s important that you know and understand all applicable laws. Here are some of the most important ones:

Must Follow All Road Laws

As a cyclist, you must obey all the duties imposed on drivers of motor vehicles, except those which cannot be reasonably applied to cyclists. 

Cyclists Must Ride With Traffic

The most basic rule for cyclists is that they must ride with traffic—not against it. 

Cyclists May Legally Split Lanes When Overtaking Other Vehicles

It is legal for cyclists to split lanes – ride in between lanes of slow-moving cars – when overtaking other vehicles so long as they do so safely. Cyclists should always take extra caution around large vehicles such as trucks or buses because their blind spots will make it difficult for them to see a cyclist attempting to pass them.

No Regulations Stating That Cyclists Must Use Bike Lanes When Provided

DC does not require riders to use bike lanes when provided. However, bike lanes are designed specifically for bicycles and provide a safer environment for traveling than regular roads without bike lanes. 

Bicycle Riding on Sidewalks 

In D.C., you are allowed to ride your bike on sidewalks, with one major exception—the Central Business District (CBD). The CBD includes everything from Massachusetts Avenue to Constitution Avenue, 23rd Street NW to 2nd Street NE. 

Anywhere else in the city, cyclists are free to ride their bikes on sidewalks as long as they yield to pedestrians and follow all other applicable rules. 

Bike Registration 

Before June 1st, 2008, bike registration was mandatory in D.C., but now it is no longer necessary for cyclists to register their bikes. 

Parking or Stopping in Bike Lanes 

It is illegal for anyone—motorists or cyclists—to park or stop their vehicle in a designated bike lane. It is also illegal to stand in the bike lane. 

Cyclists Riding Next to Each Other 

Cyclists can only ride two abreast if they are on a path or area of the road that is designated exclusively for bicyclists.  

Opening Vehicle Doors 

No person should open their vehicle door on the side where traffic is approaching unless it can be done without impacting moving traffic or pedestrians and with safety to themselves and passengers. In cases where a vehicle door is opened into traffic and hits a cyclist, the person who opened their door will be at fault and would be responsible for any resulting damages or injuries.      

Cell Phones While Riding

In DC, mobile telephone and other electronic devices must be equipped with a hands-free accessory while operating any motor vehicle. This does not include bicycles, as they are not motor vehicles. It is legal to talk on a cell phone while riding, though not necessarily advisable.

Equipment Requirements 

When riding your bike at night, or in any conditions where visibility is reduced, it’s important to have the proper equipment in place. Your bike must be equipped with a white light visible from 500 ft away when in use at night. 

Additionally, your bike must have a red reflector that is visible from 50-300ft in front. Having these pieces of equipment will ensure that other drivers can see you and can help prevent accidents.


It is illegal for anyone under the age of 16 to ride a bicycle or any attachment to a bicycle on public roads or paths unless wearing a correctly fitted and fastened helmet.

Metrorail Regulations 

If you plan on using Metrorail as part of your commute, there are some regulations you should be aware of. On weekdays, bicycles are allowed on Metrorail with a limit of two per car between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., excluding the rush hours from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m., and 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.

On weekends and most holidays, bicycles are permitted all day with a limit of four per car – however on certain special events or holidays when large crowds are expected to use the system (such as July 4th), bicycles are prohibited on Metrorail at all times.

Public Bicycle Parking

Generally speaking, bicycles may be parked in public areas for a maximum of 12 hours. After that, they must be moved to another location or risk being fined or impounded by law enforcement.

Penalties For Breaking Cycling Laws

The following are some of the most common penalties that have been handed out as a result of violating the cycling laws in D.C.

  • Failing to keep one hand on handlebars while carrying objects – a $25
  • Excessive number of riders – $25
  • Furnishing false information -$5
  • Hazardous driving – $25
  • Hitching onto/riding on vehicle – $25
  • Impeding or obstructing traffic – $25
  • Violation of equipment standards – $25
  • Improperly securing a bicycle – $25
  • Riding on a sidewalk where it is not permitted – $25
  • Riding side-by-side and obstructing traffic – $25 
  • Failure to yield the right-of-way – $25

What To Do If You’re in a Bicycle Accident

If you or other riders and drivers on the roadway fail to follow all applicable laws, you could end up being injured in an accident, and you could be entitled to compensation. Here’s what you should do if this happens:

First, it is important to remember that safety should always come first. Seek medical attention immediately even if you don’t think your injuries are severe. It is not uncommon for cyclists to go into shock after an accident resulting in them being unaware of their injuries. 

It is also important that cyclists take down the contact information of any witnesses who may have seen the crash happen or were present at the scene afterwards. Witnesses can provide valuable insight into both how and why a bike accident occurred, and their testimonies can be used as evidence in court proceedings. 

If another party appears responsible for the bicycle crash, gather their contact information as well including names, phone numbers, addresses, license plate numbers, and insurance information.

If there was damage done to either your bike or other property you had with you, it is essential that photos of the damage are for insurance purposes.

If you find yourself involved in a bicycle crash, it’s important to speak with a lawyer as soon as possible. Contact our Washington, D.C. bicycle accident lawyers today to schedule a free consultation.